The Smith-Schuster Solution: How JuJu Helps Chefs Thrive Without Tyreek Hill

By surprisingly trading Tyreek Hill this offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs parted ways with a player whose unparalleled speed has always been their easiest route to explosive plays.

Juju Smith-Schuster may have initially seemed curious to replace him. But after back-to-back 100-yard receiving performances, he’s proving to be the ideal No. 1 for the Chiefs to attack the way defenses try to defend them in 2022.

With tight end Travis Kelce the undisputed prime target for Patrick Mahomes in the post-Hill era, Smith-Schuster is quickly developing an increasingly powerful relationship with a quarterback who is in a seemingly relentless battle with Josh. Allen for the title of scariest in the league. signal-caller.

The San Francisco 49ers will spend the first part of the week before Halloween trying to learn from the nightmare of their previously ranked defense against the Chiefs.

After catching all five of his targets for 113 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills last week, Smith-Schuster had another sensational display at Levi’s Stadium.

He finished with seven catches on eight targets for 124 yards and a touchdown that was the knockout blow in the Chiefs’ 44-23 victory over the 49ers.

Smith-Schuster produced a burn, which is when a receiver wins their game on a play in which they are targeted, on seven of their eight targets against San Francisco and averages 15.5 yards burned per target . Of the receivers targeted at least five times in Week 7, only Jaylen Waddle and Tyler Boyd averaged more.

Those numbers are a continuation of a Week 6 theme when Smith-Schuster recorded a burn on each of his targets and averaged 22.6 yards burned per target against the Bills.

For the season, Smith-Schuster now has a 72.3% burn rate, which ranks him third among wide receivers with at least 25 targets.

In other words, he creates separation at an elite level and, as he showed against the 49ers, he does that no matter what coverage he faces.

Smith-Schuster was outstanding in Week 7 attacking both men’s and zone coverage. Against the man, he used his physique and 215-pound frame to win his matchups with San Francisco cornerbacks.

He ran a pivot route on third down and relied on his superior volume to get rid of Deommodore Lenoir and convert with a 5-yard gain to set up the Chiefs’ first touchdown at Mecole Hardman.

Smith-Schuster then converted on second down on a 6-yard slant, getting physical with former chief Charvarius Ward to keep Kansas City out of a third-down situation on a drive that ended with another touchdown. for Hardman.

The former Pittsburgh Steeler finished the first half with a 19-yard reception on a back shoulder throw, which he brought in easily beating corner relief Ambry Thomas at the catch point.

In the second half, however, Smith-Schuster thrived on his ability to exploit zone coverage.

The Chiefs proved nearly unstoppable on third down, and Smith-Schuster offered a key conversion on third and second that eventually culminated in a Mahomes strike against Justin Watson to put them up 28-16.

San Francisco moved to two-deep safe zone coverage in the blink of an eye, but it was the Niners who were fooled by Mahomes. He didn’t turn his eyes on Smith-Schuster until the last second as a route from tight end Travis Kelce held off nickel defender Jimmie Ward and created a big hole in the area Smith-Schuster was in executed a break route.

Smith-Schuster halted his route outward at the perfect depth to ensure safety. Tashaun Gipson had too much ground to make up, with Mahomes driving the ball high where only his receiver could get it as they connected for a 15-yard gain.

Mahomes was able to hold the defense with his eyes due to the obvious faith that Smith-Schuster would be in the right place to make the play, and that confidence in the Chiefs’ new wide top will continue to blossom if he continues to make moves. games after capture. . He ranks 13th in the NFL in that category with 210 yards so far.

On the drive that set up Hardman’s third and final touchdown, Mahomes settled for a short throw to Smith-Schuster on a lower cruiser against a 6 cover gaze protecting the end zone. But Smith-Schuster broke a tackle and gained 20 yards to put the Chiefs on the 3-yard line.

The final scoring drive was dominated by Smith-Schuster, who on a second-and-20 put the Chiefs in position to convert on third down by gaining more yards after catching on a 14-yard completion from Mahomes on a road stop. Corner Charvarius Ward was playing in the zone again, but dropped deep to guard against a corner route from Hardman, giving Smith-Schuster an easy reception.

His defining contribution came on the next play on another routine catch that Smith-Schuster turned into a long touchdown, capitalizing on a zone coverage bust to surge 47 yards into the end zone. Smith-Schuster was left alone to settle into a huge gap in midfield. That space should have been occupied by All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, but he left the area to cover Kelce, leaving Smith-Schuster free to cap off a dominating day for the Chiefs offense in style.

Hardman’s three touchdowns and Mahomes’ 423-yard day may have garnered more attention, but it’s Smith-Schuster’s shrewd acquisition that unlocks this latest version of Andy Reid’s offense.

Smith-Schuster provides Mahomes with a receiver who excels in offensive zone coverage and can consistently turn short throws into plays that drain a defense even when he’s successfully forced him to take the bottom option with the use of two-high zones that have become Kansas City’s default response to offense.

While he doesn’t have top speed, Smith-Schuster can also win critically against the man when defenses take a more aggressive approach to the ever infuriating challenge of trying to stop Mahomes. He couldn’t be a more different receiver than Mahomes had when Hill was his No. 1, but Smith-Schuster’s skill set is one that gives the Chiefs answers to the variety of tests defenses throw at them. .

And, as the budding chemistry between Mahomes and Smith-Schuster develops, it will once again be the defenses desperately searching for a solution.

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