In what has essentially been a lost season for the Silver & Black, the improvement of the secondary has given Raider fans a reason to hope for better days. Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley, and Karl Joseph have all significantly improved over the course of the season. They face their toughest test Sunday against the Steeler’s prolific combination of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The Steelers’ passing attack starts with Brown, who is arguably the best receiver of his generation. The nine-year veteran has totaled 1,028 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, one that will likely culminate in his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl.
“They move him around everywhere,” said Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. “You don’t know where he’s going to be. He can run every route you dream up. I say that about other receivers but he can run double moves, he can run by you, he can run crossing routes, he’s very good after the catch.”
“What’s the greatest thing about this man, I’ve told all of our receivers, if you get a chance to watch him practice, you’ll see what unlocks the greatness in him. He’s the hardest working man, I think, in football. Hardest working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but I put Antonio Brown at the top. If there are any young wideouts out there, I’d go watch him practice. You figure out yourself why he’s such a good player.”
Brown is a nightmare for defensive coordinators to deal with, especially since he is difficult to double-team with all of the other weapons on the Steeler’s offense, most notably Smith-Schuster.
A second-year wide receiver out of USC, Smith-Schuster has become one of the young stars in the NFL and has directly benefited from Brown’s tutelage, but also the attention he garners on the gridiron. In 26 games, he Smith-Schuster has recorded 2,021 receiving yards along with 11 touchdowns and leads the Steelers in the receiving this season with 1104 yards in just 12 games.
“He’s a good player,” Gruden said of Smith-Schuster. “He’s a physical guy. He’s obviously smart. He’s taken advantage of some of the coverage that Antonio [Brown] is getting. He’s a natural football player. He’s an excellent blocker. He’s outstanding after the catch. He’s, I think, coming into his own as a legitimate go-to guy.”
“They’ve got two of them in Pittsburgh and that’s a problem for us.”