Smith-Schuster taking 'smart' approach with injury

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the precarious position of being in the playoffs as of now, but with a postseason berth still unsecured, there's no time to relax.

They'll have to fend off late pushes from at least the Tennessee Titans, if not two other still-alive teams. Such an effort could be helped significantly by the return of star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but that depends on the health of his ailing knee.

Smith-Schuster said Monday it's a matter of feel for him and stressed the importance of caution.

"My mind is telling me I want to go out there," Smith-Schuster said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "My body is telling me I want to go out there, but I don't want to go out there and mess it up to the point where I'm out for a whole another year because of my knee. I'm taking it slow and playing the game smart."

Such an approach is wise to preserve career longevity and earning power for Smith-Schuster, and also maintain his potential to make a significant impact for his current team in the weeks and years ahead. But there's also the nagging need for his contributions in a playoff race that will include a rematch with the AFC North champion Ravens in Week 17.

Second-year wideout James Washington has been a revelation for these Steelers, more than tripling his rookie-year output in receiving yards and touchdowns. But Pittsburgh would become significantly more dangerous on the offensive side of the ball with Smith-Schuster on the field.

His absence showed late in Sunday night's loss to Buffalo, when a pass-heavy Steelers offense was forced to heave the ball toward Washington late, resulting in one crucial gain and two crushing interceptions, with the second sinking Pittsburgh's comeback hopes. Devlin Hodges finished with one touchdown and four interceptions as the Steelers simply couldn't do enough offensively to keep pace with the Bills, resulting in a 17-10 loss.

Before the game, Smith-Schuster worked out on the field, testing his knee to see if he could play. Ultimately, he wasn't ready to return, and it's likely he wishes he could have suited up when watching Hodges toss a last-second prayer to Washington.

"When you're in that environment, you feel better, (with) the adrenaline that is running through your body," Smith-Schuster said of the pregame warmup. "I thought I could have played, but at the same time, you have to be cautious and take it slow."

We'll see if that process speeds up in the final two weeks with the Steelers needing a jolt to reach the postseason.

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