Fresh off of a wildly disappointing season last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off 2020 with an opening night win over the New York Giants. The offensive unit seemed to have no problem against the Giants defense, and several players put up solid stats. However, no one on the field on Monday had a better game than wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. Let’s take a closer look at his gameday performance.
Juju Smith-Schuster and the OVM Charts
Smith-Schuster was undoubtedly the most valuable player on the Steelers offense for Week 1. Earlier this month, I wrote about Smith-Schuster’s OVM history and the value he’s provided to the Steelers offense over the last several seasons. Monday night’s performance was an excellent representation of what we had previously discussed: Juju Smith-Schuster is going to perform when the ball is in his hands.
Smith-Schuster’s play this week was perfect. He ended the day with an Offensive Value Metric grade of 49.83. For the OVM metrics, this is an exceptionally high grade. Normally, a player carrying his team will score around a 40.00 on the metrics. For comparison, the next highest OVM grade from the Steelers offense was WR Diontae Johnson with a 36.90.
Remember, we use the Offensive Value Metric (OVM) to give us a gauge on how much individual value a player added to his offense that week. It doesn’t necessarily identify higher skilled players, but it does illustrate which players carried the most weight of their offense’s success each week.
The connection between Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster
Ben Roethlisberger targeted Smith-Schuster just six times in Week 1. He brought in every target with a 100% completion rating. He totaled 69 yards, averaging 6.3 of positive yardage after catch. He accounted for almost 17% of Pittsburgh’s total air yardage and brought in two receiving touchdowns — tied for the first highest TD number in Week 1 among all NFL receivers.
He did a good job of creating separation from the Giants defenders and getting open at opportune times over the course of the game. He averaged 3.6 yards of distance between himself and a defender over his completions, with nearly six yards of positive yardage per each target.
There was a lot of controversy around Smith-Schuster last season. If his Week 1 performance has set the foundation for his 2020 season, he’s on the right track to show that he’s still very much capable of being a top-tier receiver again this year. The quickest way to quiet your doubters is on the field — and this doesn’t hurt his fantasy value either.
Smith-Schuster has to stay healthy this season
For as great as Smith-Schuster played on Monday night, things are already starting to look questionable for Week 2. Smith-Schuster did not practice on Wednesday and is listed on the injury report with a knee problem.
To reference my previous article again, we mentioned the need to keep the Pittsburgh offense healthy this year. The wheels seemed to fall off last season once the injuries started adding up on the offense. Smith-Schuster missed a large part of the regular season in 2019 and will have to stay healthy this year to avoid another setback.
Smith-Schuster has a history of being one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, and we saw a glimpse of that Monday night. If he can keep this momentum building through the first quarter of the season, this can help place the Steelers in a great position in their division. Smith-Schuster will be up against a Broncos defense this weekend that seemed to struggle a bit in Week 1. If he is at 100% on Sunday, he should be able to put up another great game.