As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. The key area to watch in Sunday afternoon’s contest as the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to play the San Francisco 49ers.
X Factor: Diontae Johnson
We know the offense has to stop the stagnation. Mason Rudolph has to play well. But neither of those things are likely to happen unless someone else steps up at wide receiver. So far, all WRs not named JuJu Smith-Schuster have posted the following combined stat line:
39 targets, 18 receptions (46.2% catch rate) 152 yards (8.4 yards per catch) 0 TDs, six drops
Yikes. Johnson confirmed yesterday to reporters he’s now the starter opposite Smith-Schuster. And though his numbers so far haven’t been anything to get excited about, his 17 yard, one-handed reception last week was a heck of an adjustment to a poorly thrown ball by Rudolph.
His skllset is one that can make plays for this offense. He’s quick-twitch, explosive, and able to separate. And there’s no better friend to a QB making his debut than one who can get open and do damage after the catch. Pittsburgh won’t win this game, and keep its season alive, without some chunk plays. They’re not going to win by marching down the field five yards at a time.
As we wrote earlier in the week, the offense is putting an undue burden on the defense too. First half drives that stall out, go nowhere, and tire out the defense, hurting them late in games. That’s what happened in last week’s loss to Seattle, the defense unable to get a stop over the final five minutes.
It’d also be nice, and this may sound crazy, for this team to actually play with a lead too. Through two weeks, they’ve held a lead for just 7:36. And they’ve yet to have a lead larger than seven points. Not that either side would play significantly differently with a 10 point advantage, unless it’s late in the game, but it’s just nice knowing giving up one drive doesn’t dramatically change the outcome of the game.
Bottom line. This offense needs splash and Johnson is one of the best secondary sources who can provide it. Not only at receiver but potentially in the punt game too should he remain on that unit after getting a look there mid-way through last game.