Among the many things playing a factor in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 5 victory over the Denver Broncos 27-19, one was the team’s increase in getting chunk plays — plays going for large amounts of yardage that either directly resulted in points, like Diontae Johnson’s 50-yard touchdown reception, or led to an eventual touchdown or field goal.
Those plays came from throughout the offense on both the ground and in the air, but many of the most well-remembered ones came on passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, notably to Johnson but also to Chase Claypool, who had several of them. After the game, Roethlisberger praised the abilities of his pass catchers, who made the most with their targets and helped the team pick up the win.
“I think guys just stepped up and made plays. I think a lot of that, obviously Chase’s was big, Diontae in that last drive,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s just guys making plays. And I told them going in that we obviously, you know, thinking about JuJu, and Chase wasn’t getting many reps in the second half, we need the guys to step up and make plays, and guys did that. And that’s what I think I’m most proud about.”
Much of Roethlisberger’s praise focused on the second-half effort from his pass catchers, which came playing short-handed. One of the team’s top three receivers, JuJu Smith-Schuster, suffered a shoulder injury in the game and was quickly ruled out, leaving Johnson and Claypool as the top two targets, James Washington to step up and become the third target, and Ray-Ray McCloud to see more snaps than the return man was used to.
In that half, already up 17-6 at halftime, the Steelers scored on two of their three drives. The opening drive saw Claypool take a short pass for 14 yards and then bring in an 18-yard touchdown as part of a 14-play effort by the team to go up 24-6. And then both Claypool and Johnson had big plays on the team’s last drive of the game, which ended in a Chris Boswell field goal to go up eight with just over two minutes to play. Johnson caught a short slant at the Pittsburgh 27-yard line and went 22 yards, and then Claypool took a short pass 16 yards on the next play to get to the Denver 35 and into field goal range.
In particular during his answer, Roethlisberger lauded Johnson’s play. Not the 50-yard touchdown catch he had on the opening drive for the lead that the team never gave up, but that 22-yard catch on the final drive.
“Probably not the most ideal, [Josh] Dobbs was telling me on the headset that the coaches were like, “It’s not there. He’s not gonna throw, he’s not gonna throw it.’ Josh was like, ‘He’s gonna throw it.’ And sure enough, got it to him, and when you get the ball to a guy like that in space, and sometimes space doesn’t have to be a lot, it can be a crack, and he’s going to make something fun happen.”
It was a big effort from both receivers. Johnson’s 72 yards give him 305 this season, leading the team, while Claypool had five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, the most yardage in a single game this season for a Steeler. Overall Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense finished with 244 passing yards.
Pittsburgh moves to 2-3 this season, and will face the Seattle Seahawks at home on Sunday Night Football next week, before entering its bye week.