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Steelers Still Not Finding Targets for JuJu Smith-Schuster

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PITTSBURGH — Last season, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was targeted 166 times over 16 games. He had 111 receptions and 1,426 receiving yards.

Through eight games this season, Smith-Schuster has only been targeted 51 times and has 33 receptions for 459 yards.

What has caused this drastic drop in production? Is it the loss of Ben Roethlisberger? Or is it the fact that Smith-Schuster is the clear No. 1 option, which might make a young Mason Rudolph not be so eager to force throws into tight coverage?

Despite Smith-Shuster’s quiet start to the season, the Steelers (4-4) can still control their own destiny, to ultimately, get where they want to be at the end of the season.

One assumption that you can eliminate, is that Smith-Shuster doesn’t have the same drive to be great and help his team be successful. He still has the underdog mentality that came into the league with, just two years ago.

“Yeah, I’m a hungry guy,” Smith-Schuster said. “I want to help the team as much as possible. But at the end of the day, if your winning, you can’t really complain about that.”

Smith-Shuster has had three receptions or less in four of Pittsburgh’s first eight games. In 16 games last season, he only recorded one game with three or less catches.

His quarterback (Rudolph) knows that Smith-Schuster can still impact the outcome of a game, even if he isn’t raking in the same receiving numbers as a year ago.

“He’s attracting a lot of flies,” Rudolph said. “He’s attracting the safety and allowing us to get one on one shots down the field with other receivers. When he’s not catching the ball, he understands the type of attention that he attracts and really does a good job with being a selfless player in those situations.”

Rudolph and Smith-Schuster know that the offense has taken a backseat to the Steelers defense this year.

“I would like on our end (the offensive unit), to be able to punch some more of those balls in the end zone,” Rudolph said. “Whether we are moving the ball down the field or working with a short field, due to (the defense’s turnovers). I think we are right there, it’s just a matter of creating some energy for our defense.”

The hungry Smith-Schuster will continue to look for opportunities to up his receiving numbers. The offense as a whole needs to find some continuity before they can start just forcing the ball to Smith-Schuster.

With the team now at .500, and getting a playoff spot becoming a possibility, every practice rep and game rep matters more than ever. Smith-Schuster wants his unit to go into the final stretch with a clear mindset.

“We just got to stay positive,” Smith-Schuster said. “We just have to take it one game at a time, and we are going to get to that level (of where they want to be at the end of the season).”

Alan Saunders and Mike Asti contributed reporting from Pittsburgh.

Steelers

Report: Steelers QB Coach Matt Canada Tested Positive for COVID-19

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Steelers quarterbacks coach Matt Canada has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report by Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network.

The Steelers announced earlier on Saturday that Canada, along with special teams coordinator Danny Smith, will not coach in the team’s game against the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday due to illnesses.

Kinkhabwala reported that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is not considered a close contact of Canada’s and will not have to isolate for five days, as he did when tight end Vance McDonald tested positive earlier this season.

Smith has also tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Steelers announced that assistant wide receivers coach Blaine Stewart will replace Smith. They did not announce a replacement for Canada.

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Matt Canada, Danny Smith Will Not Coach for Steelers vs. Ravens

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Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada will not participate in the team’s game Tuesday night against the Baltimore Ravens, the team announced on Saturday.

The Steelers said both coaches will not participate due to illness. Smith has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report by the Post-Gazette.

Smith will be replaced by assistant wide receivers coach Blaine Stewart, the team announced. The club did not announced a direct replacement for Canada.

The team has not had any coaches miss any games this season due to COVID-19 issues.

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Reports: Steelers RB James Conner, Coach Danny Smith Test Positive for COVID-19

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Steelers running back James Conner and special teams coordinator Danny Smith have tested positive for COVID-19, according to reports by Adam Schefter of ESPN, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network and Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette.

Conner, the Steelers’ starting running back, is a cancer survivor. Smith, 67 is in his eighth season with the Steelers and 25th as an NFL coach.

The news comes on the heels of the team placing three players — defensive linemen Isaiah Buggs and Stephon Tuitt and tackle Jerald Hawkins — on the COVID-19 reserve list on Friday.

Tracing for close contacts is underway. Schefter reported that Conner has multiple close contacts that will have to be isolated from the team.

With the Steelers scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Tuesday, Conner, the three players placed on the COVID-19 list on Friday and all additional positive cases and close contacts will miss the game.

Conner will likely be replaced by second-year backup Benny Snell. Chris Wormley and Henry Mondeaux will fill in for Tuitt and Buggs on the defensive line, if available. Derwin Gray will be elevated to the top backup at tackle without Hawkins.

The Steelers did not practice on Friday and are not scheduled to practice on Saturday. They are scheduled to return to practice on Sunday.

The Steelers previously had guard Kevin Dotson on the COVID-19 reserve list, while tight end Vance McDonald came off the list this week after missing one game.

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