Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t have much to offer when it came to addressing his second-year wide receiver, Diontae Johnson, following his benching for the majority of the first half against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, but it was a positive assessment of how his young playmaker took that challenge.
“I thought he responded appropriately”, he said of Johnson, who dropped two passes on the Steelers’ first two drives of the game, and then did not play again until the second half. “He didn’t pout, but he waited for his next opportunity, and when his next opportunity came, he was productive. And so we’ll move forward”.
In all, he only played 28 snaps during the game, which was under 50 percent of the total, but he did play extensively in the first half—in fact, on all but one play, according to our charting. He finished the game with four receptions on seven targets for 40 yards, with three receptions for 28 yards coming on the Steelers’ lone scoring drive in the second half.
Johnson now has 69 receptions on the season for 694 yards and five touchdowns. That is 10 more receptions and 14 more yards than he had in all of the 2019 season, his rookie year, with the same number of touchdowns, with three more games to add to his total.
His numbers have more or less been produced over just 10 games, as well, because he missed the majority of three games, including one game entirely. He caught just one pass during that three-game span early this season while he was battling injuries, which went for negative yardage.
Prior to his recent struggles with drops over the past three games, Johnson had the most productive two-game span of his career, catching 18 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown. He never had a 100-yard game before doing it in consecutive weeks.
The former Toledo star has already proven in his young career to be rather enigmatic. While he is supremely talented, a gifted route-runner with a knack for making people miss after the catch, his struggles to field the ball, and at other times to keep his feet or to retain possession of the ball, have led to some undesirable adventures.
Where do we go from here? Based on his second-half snap count and Tomlin’s remarks earlier today—plus Tomlin’s remarks about limited Chase Claypool’s workload—it would seem as though they are going full-steam ahead with Johnson back in the starting lineup, trusting that he has gotten the drops out of his system after putting more than half a dozen balls on the ground over a three-week span.