Monday, January 17, 2022

Steelers Pro Bowler could return from injured reserve against Chiefs

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We’re now three days away from the Kansas City Chiefs’ first playoff game of 2022 — and hopefully not the last.

Their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has embraced their underdog label from sack leader TJ Watt to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They can’t take this veteran contender lightly, however, because there’s a reason they’ve made it to their eighth postseason in the last 12 years.

News broke today, Jan. 13, that the Steelers could have a major reinforcement in time for Sunday’s head-to-head.

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After practice on Thursday NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted: “Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was training today after shoulder surgery that put him on IR, has a chance to play this weekend. It will depend on how he does in training but coach Mike Tomlin called it a start.”

Smith-Schuster signed a one-year deal to return to Pittsburgh in 2021, but it was a poor decision after fate intervened. The Steelers playmaker dislocated his shoulder in Week 5 and initial reports suggest he will be out for the season.

It turns out he missed the final 13 weeks of the regular season, but no one said anything about the playoffs. Smith-Schuster would be a big boost for this offense, which ranked 23rd in yards per game and 21st in points per game in 2021.

The former Pro Bowler started a 1,000-yard campaign in 2018 for 1,426 yards and 111 catches. He narrowly missed triple-digit receptions in 2020 with 97, despite a lower total mileage of 831.

Much of that transition was an adjustment to his quarterback’s game. As Big Ben has aged, that pass attack has shifted more into a short-medium distance mindset.

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Smith-Schuster didn’t comment on his potential return, instead letting his eyes do the talking.

By that I mean his virtual eyes. The Pittsburgh Star quote tweeted a mention of him practicing with the wide-eyed emoji.

Teammate Diontae Johnson had something else to say, per mark Kaboly by The Athletic.

“Once we win, don’t jump back on that bandwagon,” Johnson told the NFL world via media.

The Steelers have long been one of the most popular franchises, but with popularity comes hatred, Chiefs Kingdom has learned in recent years. Many were against the black and yellow and even made it into the postseason in week 18, favoring a tie between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers.

It seems the combination of social media chatter and overwhelming betting odds could propel Pittsburgh into round one as the ultimate motivator. KC must beware of that.

They might have blown away the Steelers in December — final score of 36-10 — but factors like intensity and drive account for half of the wins and losses in this league and won’t let anyone tell you otherwise. When the Chiefs come out sleepwalking on Sunday night, they’ll face an opponent very keen to teach them a lesson.

I’m not saying don’t mind business, just remember to do it with respect.

The Steelers have long been one of the most popular franchises, but with popularity comes hatred, Chiefs Kingdom has learned in recent years. Many were against the black and yellow and even made it into the postseason in week 18, favoring a tie between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers.



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