So far, through the Steelers first 5 games, four different receivers have led the team in targets. Ben Roethlisberger is making the most of his plethora of weapons. Week to week Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target keeps changing. The team, and Roethlisberger specifically, have definitely taken a “take what they are giving you” approach to this season.
During the first two weeks of the season it made sense that teams would key on Juju Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster is the Steelers top receiver and will continue to get a lot of attention from opposing defense.
Just how much are opposing defenses focusing on the fourth-year wide receiver?
“A lot”, James Washington Told Steelers.com. “Just because of the resume that he’s built over the years. I feel like he will never go into a game unnoticed, so I feel like people definitely key him, and then when that happens, us other guys, we just have to capitalize on our opportunities and make stuff happen for the offense”.
That attention on Smith-Schuster is opening up opportunities for other receivers to step up and make plays. It is also giving Ben Roethlisberger favorable match-ups that he is exploiting.
Roethlisberger’s Favorite Target
During the first two weeks of the season Roethlisberger targeted Diontae Johnson 23 times. The next player on the list in terms of targets over those two games was Smith-Schuster with 14. The reason for Johnson’s number of targets is clear. He is getting the favorable match-ups. As the number two receiver he gets the defenses second best corner and fewer coverages with a safety over the top.
Against the Texans, Roethlisberger’s top target changed again when tight-end Eric Ebron led the team in receiving. Ebron was targeted seven times and caught five passes against the Houston defense.
When the Steelers faced off against the Eagles Roethlisberger again had a new favorite weapon. Rookie first-round pick Chase Claypool was targeted eleven times and caught seven passes. He also added four touchdowns in a dominate performance against the Philadelphia defense.
The Juju Smith-Schuster Effect
Smith-Schuster is a top tier wideout in the NFL. He takes defenses top corner and typically gets a safety shaded his way. That opens up the field for the rest of the offense. Sure, it would be easy to look at his stats so far this year and say he is having a down year.
His statistics, however, do not tell the whole story. The mere presence of Smith-Schuster on the field is making all the difference. It is giving Ben Roethlisberger favorable match-ups and he is taking advantage.
An argument could be made that Smith-Schuster if he is indeed a number-one receiver, should be able to beat double-teams. And he does, consistently. The answer to that argument is simple. Why would Ben Roethlisberger ever force a throw into double coverage when he has a wide-receiver wide open across the middle in a more favorable match-up?
Teams will also start to key on Claypool if he continues to play the way he has so far. That could be a reason James Washington became the team’s top target getter in week 6. With so many weapons on the field it is clear that Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target will continue to be the one with the best match-up for success.