The third-year receiver totaled just three catches for 15 yards, his second-worst output of any game in his career. In two games with quarterback Mason Rudolph starting, he’s only hauled in six catches for 96 yards, 76 of which came on one touchdown.
But that figures to change in the near future, as Rudolph apologized to Smith-Schuster after Monday’s game and said that he wants to turn to his top receiver more.
“Got to get the ball to your best players, and that’s something you look forward to every week in the gameplan, so it’s just an emphasis on my end,” Rudolph said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “JuJu is a team player, and there’s going to be games like that where they might take him away or other guys have to step up and make plays, and they did that Monday night. That’s the type of group we have.”
Steelers have been conservative with Mason Rudolph
Smith-Schuster was expecting to receive tougher coverage this season with Antonio Brown out of the picture, and that’s clearly contributed to his lack of production. The Bengals frequently doubled him, which led to big opportunities for players like Diontae Johnson.
But another problem has been that the Steelers have not taken the training wheels off Rudolph, who was known as a gunslinger during his days with the Oklahoma State Cowboys. After averaging 9.4 yards per attempt in college, Rudolph ranks 24th in the league this season, just under 7 yards per attempt.
“We want to get the ball out,” Rudolph said, via the Associated Press. “We’ve got an unbelievable offensive line from a protection and run game standpoint. But they appreciate getting the ball out quick and keeping defenses on their heels and not letting the rush not really get dialed up and get back to me. So that’s a facet of the game and there's times you’ve got to play action and take them down the field and we did both.”
In Monday's game, Rudolph only threw three passes more than 10 yards downfield, and half of his passes came behind the line of scrimmage. The Steelers plan to open their playbook more as Rudolph gets more comfortable, and that could spell more productive days for their star receiver.
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