When I was at school, I had a best friend called Robert. Robert was great. Extremely popular, fun, intelligent, generous, and fantastically talented. He was the captain of our football team and went on to play for England’s youth basketball team. He was loud and distracting, but he’d also ace everything put in front of him whether it sports related, mathematics, English, history.
He was just one of those people. But some of us aren’t like that – some of us need to focus, not be distracted, and we need to be in the zone. We can’t just turn it off and on like he could.
I always feel that JuJu Smith-Schuster is like Robert. He’s a character, he’s the centre of attention, and he’s wonderfully talented, but he’s a distraction. Love him or hate him, JuJu really is one of the outstanding personalities in the NFL right now, but following on from the Steelers’ shocking loss to the Browns in the Wild Card round of the NFL play-offs, he’s taking a fair bit of flack for his words before the game.
“I think they’re still the same Browns teams I play every year,” Juju said. “I think they’re nameless grey faces. Yes, they have a couple good players on their team, but at the end of the day, the Browns is the Browns.”
Now that isn’t a great thing to say, is it? The Browns are going to use that as fuel to punish an already floundering Steelers offense with their defensive playmakers, and that’s exactly what they did right off the bat in the first quarter.
The thing is, aren’t the Steelers always like this? Haven’t they always been like this? They’re outspoken, they’re brash, they trash-talk, and they get under your skin. Is JuJu just trying to fill the void left by outspoken former Steelers like Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and James Harrison? If so, those players were all loved by the fanbase for their ability on the field, and often for their outlandish and wild voices and opinions off it. But, inevitably, as they say – if you’re gonna talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.
But here’s the thing: HE DID.
JuJu Smith-Schuster played a fantastic game last night. He had thirteen receptions on nineteen targets and went for 157 and a touchdown. Obviously, he wasn’t the problem last night, but because he was outspoken and disrespectful, he’s going to cop the fallout.
The Steelers were bad last night. They’ve struggled to get their offense going for the last six weeks, and whether that’s due to the break they had is irrelevant – they’ve been really poor and that’s not acceptable at all from an offense boasting the talent they can on a team that went 11-0 to open the season.
Last night’s first quarter was terrible across the board. Ben Roethlisberger, one of the league’s elite passers, seems to be on his way out now and despite posting north of five-hundred yards by the end of the game yesterday, also had some terrible throws including a little dink over the line for the easiest pick M.J. Stewart Jr will ever have in his career.
On top of that, the Steelers’ third-ranked defense didn’t manage to get to Mayfield once despite the Browns fielding an offensive line with more cracks in it than a Nicki Minaj video. Oh, and let’s not forget that James Conner ran like he was in treacle, Eric Ebron dropped a couple, and generally every single other thing about the Steelers was poor.
So, is it JuJu’s fault they lost? No. Is it JuJu’s fault the Browns were foaming at the mouth to get one over on the Steelers? No, because they’re rivals and they would have been anyway.
Should JuJu rein it in as he heads for free agency? Absolutely. The Steelers’ cap is precarious to say the least, and with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington all on the roster already it doesn’t really make sense to break the bank to keep him, especially with a potential shift at quarterback.
His off-the-field activity may ward off some potential suitors such as the receiver-needy Patriots, but there will be a solid market for him considering he can really ball when he wants to.
I personally enjoy his off-the-field personality – he’s funny, good with the fans, exceedingly generous and kind, and seems very fun to be around, but maybe that play-off focus needs to be tuned. Not necessarily to improve his own performances, but to stop being a distraction to others and giving the opposition unnecessary motivation to come in and play like they did last night.
One thing is for certain, though: JuJu won’t be accepted on the Cleveland roster any time soon.