Rudolph: Targeting JuJu Smith-Schuster an 'emphasis'

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JuJu Smith-Schuster knew he was going to deal with more attention sans Antonio Brown this season. Now he's also contending with a QB change that has led to a dip in production.

Smith-Schuster has averaged 4.3 receptions and 64.5 receiving yards per game in 2019. He averaged 6.9 receptions and 89.1 rec YPG in 2018. The wideout was the fourth-most targeted WR in the entire NFL last season. This year, he's tied for 45th through four weeks.

In Mason Rudolph's two starts since replacing Ben Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster has six total receptions on 11 targets for 96 yards and one TD. Take out the 76-yard catch-and-run TD in Week 3, and JuJu's production with Rudolph is a depressing five catches for 20 yards.

The Steelers have kept their game plans with Rudolph ultra-conservative, rarely allowing the green QB to toss balls down the field. Rudolph noted that it's "just a matter of time" before chemistry flourishes with JuJu and fellow receiver James Washington, who also hasn't produced much with the young QB.

Rudolph specifically mentioned he's emphasized getting Smith-Schuster more involved moving forward.

"Got to get the ball to your best players, and that's something you look forward to every week in the game plan, 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."

JuJu has been hindered by a toe injury, missing practice this week, but it's not something the Steelers believe will hold the wideout back Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner cited the attention Smith-Schuster draws for his lack of production the past couple weeks.

"That's part of the thing that comes with being in JuJu's position," Fichtner said. "He attracts more attention, and that's why the other guys have to be in position to make their plays, and Diontae (Johnson) has done a nice job the last couple of weeks."

With another divisional tilt on tap against the 2-2 Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers (1-3) need Smith-Schuster to play a key role. A win would push Pittsburgh back into contention for the AFC North. A loss would make it a difficult hole to dig out of. If Pittsburgh is going down, it needs to swing with its best players involved.

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