The Pittsburgh Steelers have a group of wide receivers that is very talented. They also have a group of wide receivers that is very flawed. And second-year Diontae Johnson is proving to be the most flawed of all, because he is failing at the most fundamental task of his profession, which is simply catching the football.
Now with a dozen or more drops on the season, depending on whom you asked, Johnson was benched for a good chunk of last night’s game after he put two passes on the ground during the Steelers’ first two drives. They designed the opening play of the game to go to him, but he dropped it. Then he ended their second drive by dropping a third-down ball.
Head coach Mike Tomlin sat him down for the remainder of the first half, playing James Washington instead, who would come in and score a touchdown, his fifth of the season, which was a career high, and tied the number of touchdowns that Johnson has this season.
But the latter would come back in the game in the second half and play sparingly. He was featured on one drive on which he caught three passes, mostly short work on the perimeter, that ended in a JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown.
The latter veteran receiver was asked after the game how you deal with a case of the drops the way Johnson is experiencing them now and how you keep a guy like that involved. He noted his teammate’s struggles, but said, “at the same time, you see Diontae Johnson come back. He came out in the second half and made a couple of plays for us on the drive where we scored. Like I said, just say positive, keep it going”.
Though he did have the opportunity to make a few catches in the second half of the game, we lack clarity on what this means for the next time the Steelers take the field. Is he going to be back out there playing 85 percent of the snaps as he usually does, or will he be working on a pitch count until they feel they can trust him again?
Does Johnson have the yips? How concerning is this problem in terms of it being one that is ongoing? More importantly, how much does this remove him from the offense as a viable weapon? Prior to this drop issue, he was establishing himself as the central focus of the unit.