By just the title, I am sure you are wondering, "what the heck does 'Choo-Choo' have to do with anything"?
It used to be the nickname of a special player on the Pittsburgh roster. Any guesses?
It's JuJu Smith-Schuster; before his nickname became "JuJu", there were many nicknames that Smith-Schuster's family called him. Ironically, "Choo-Choo" rhymes with JuJu, but aside from that point, there are reasons as to why Steelers Nation should hop on the 'Choo-Choo' train.
Diving into the playoffs last season for Pittsburgh, the weapons they had then were nowhere near the strength they possess in 2018. From the start of the postseason in 2017, the Steelers were without Martavis Bryant (missed all of 2016) and had no receiver besides Antonio Brown (106) and RB Le'Veon Bell (75) that had over 50 catches.
Not only was there a lack of balance at the position, but throughout the playoffs, the leading receivers besides Brown were undrafted Eli Rogers and 7th round pick Demarcus Ayers. During the AFC Championship game against New England, Le'Veon Bell did not make it out of the first quarter after going down with an injury. After that, it was up to Ben Roethlisberger, Brown, and DeAngelo Williams, with help from Rogers and Cobi Hamilton, to try and escape Gillette Stadium.
We know what the outcome was.
During last season it took a surplus of receivers to fill the void of a solid #2 spot. Aside from Rogers, Ayers, and Hamilton, Sammie Coates had flashes of doing so in the regular season but was unable to stay healthy. As far as Markus Wheaton was concerned, he was never able to stay healthy and never turned into the receiver that the Steelers wanted him to be.
TE Ladarius Green also had bursts of life in the regular season (when healthy), but was not able to stay on the field come playoff time.
Fast forward to this year's playoffs. Coming off a first-round bye, and the Steelers have finally found a balance with their receivers. Big Ben had mentioned that the moment may have been too big for the receivers last season. We all know what Antonio Brown can d:, so I am not going to focus on him.
Rather, let's focus on the "solid #2 spot" I mentioned earlier. It was sort of a game of roulette for the team last season, but I feel they've finally sorted it out. Where Rogers, Coates, Ayers, and Hamilton couldn't fill the role, one receiver this year has.
The train I was talking about? It's now time to hop aboard the "Choo-Choo": rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster is the conductor of it.
Unlike last season's struggle with no receiver having over 50 catches besides AB and Bell, JuJu hauled in 58 receptions this season for 917 yards (while gaining 1000+ scrimmage yards).
He isn't the only one, however. Martavis Bryant had a 50-catch season for over 600 yards as well, despite all of the drama that went down earlier in the year. The emergence of Vance McDonald helps too, solidifying the tight end group for the playoffs.
But it's the performance of JuJu Smith-Schuster that has made Steeler fans more satisfied with the receiving group. JuJu not only brings balance to the position but also boosts the performances of the other stars.
Last season, Bell and Brown combined for 3,177 yards from scrimmage. This season, their total rose to 3,479. Antonio Brown saw about ten more targets, Bell caught ten more balls, and Big Ben passed for over 4,000 yards: which he has done for now the fifth time in his 13-year career.
The 2018 playoffs. The Steelers are coming off a bye as healthy as they could be, at least offensively. This team is now fully equipped to make the run that Pittsburgh fans have been anticipating for since losing to New England in the AFC Championship last postseason.
The train has stopped, and it is time to climb aboard, because the arsenal that the Steelers have now, is ready to ride to their seventh Lombardi.