While some players just don’t have great ‘hands’ when it comes to their mechanics, their fundamentals, their concentration, and perhaps even simply the size of their hands, when a player has a period over the course of several games in which he is failing to bring in a number of targets that come his way, you have to assume that there is a mental and emotional component to those struggles.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson conceded that that was indeed the case for him, after earlier this season he went through a period of three games in which he recorded seven or eight dropped passes, finishing the season with the most dropped balls in the entire NFL.
It culminated with him dropping two passes on the opening two drives of the Buffalo Bills game, which prompted head coach Mike Tomlin to sit him down for the remainder of the first half. He did return to play in the second half, and made three catches on their lone scoring drive, and retained his position in the starting lineup thereafter.
“I would say after that Buffalo Bills game, I just really talked to myself and sat down with myself to try to figure out what was going on with me”, he told reporters yesterday. “Really it was just a mental thing, and really just paying attention to the outside noise. And once I got rid of that, and I started dialing in on myself, and just focusing on me, it started showing in the game”.
“You didn’t see me overthink a lot and try to double catch the ball and stuff like that, I’m locked in and ready to go”, he continued. “I just try to keep a positive mindset now, so if I drop the ball, I’m like, next play mentality. I’m not worried about that drop, it’s in the past, I can’t do nothing about it. That type of thing, I’ve just been focusing on, and it’s been helping me”.
In the previous three games, since the Bills game in which he was benched, Johnson has recorded 19 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded three receptions for 96 yards in the season finale. He had three receptions on deep passes in just the last two games of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, he finished the year with seven catches on deep targets for 247 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers are second-most on the team behind rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool, who had 10 more deep targets than anybody else on the roster.
Overall, Johnson finished his second season in the league with 88 receptions for a team-leading 923 yards and seven touchdowns. He did this despite missing what essentially amounts to three games—one full game and the majority of two others due to injury, in the span of which he caught just one pass for minus-two yards.