Every week I’ll be giving a look inside the Steelers’ wide receiver meeting room and breaking down their performance as a group. We’ll be taking a look at the plays the receivers impressed then working down to what they need to improve on in the next week.
We’ll be separating the article into the following categories (if applicable week to week):
- Yards After Catch
- Hustle / Effort
Diontae Johnson wouldn’t let his poor showing against the Detroit Lions hold him back for an extended amount of time. He came out under the bright lights of Los Angeles and had, one of, if not the best game of his NFL career. The performance he put on tape in terms of route running, catching the football, and running after the catch was the makings of a clear-cut WR1 in today’s NFL.
Let’s dive into him and his receiver teammates’ film from the Los Angeles Chargers game.
We’ll start with my favorite catch of Johnson’s on the day. The biggest difference I’ve seen in his game this year is his burst off the line. While beating the press was never a problem for Johnson, his burst and acceleration have proven elite.
Here, at the top of the screen, he gives a simple foot-fire at the line before bursting outside. He originally starts to look for a back-shoulder throw from quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger and is able to track the ball actually on the other side of the Chargers’ cornerback’s helmet. These types of contested catches are the ones that the NFL needs to be on high alert if Johnson can start to make them consistently.
Johnson also was able to make some catches in the middle of the field.
On a crosser, he proves to be on the same page as the quarterback and is able to power down in the middle of the field in a voided zone. Roethlisberger helps him out by throwing it at the receiver, rather than in front of him, keeping him away from the defender, and Johnson is able to pluck the ball out of the air with his hands before taking a hit.
Moving on to another receiver, let’s take a look at Chase Claypool.
Lining up as the outside receiver in a three-receiver bunch, Claypool gets as much separation on a deep route as we’ve seen all year for this Pittsburgh team with a wide-release post. Watch as Claypool approaches the cornerback, he does his best to get as much on the defender’s toes as possible, before planting and exploding inside.
Roethlisberger however, isn’t able to step into his throw fully due to interior pressure, causing a five-yard underthrow for what should have been an easy touchdown. While Claypool makes a good adjustment on the ball, there’s a lot of chatter of Claypool constantly ending up on the ground on his targets and this is one of the egregious examples. No reason for him to go to the ground here.
There’s no guarantee he turns this into a touchdown by catching it on his feet, but there’s a lot of lost YAC opportunities from him doing just this.
Claypool made another great adjustment to the football on this out route.
It was meant to be a wide release out, but with the corner jumping down into the zone, Claypool fades a bit and Roethlisberger throws it further up the hole more like a corner route. Claypool is able to use his large frame and jump back to make the catch. This was another one I saw fans complaining of him going to the ground for the catch, but this was one that I’m not sure how else he makes this catch.
This was a huge play to create a Steelers third and short after a 2nd and long. Keeping an eventual scoring drive, alive.
This week may have been the best route-running I’ve seen from the Steelers receivers as a whole.
The tempo shown here by Johnson at the bottom of the screen is a thing of beauty. He never lets the Chargers’ corner feel comfortable and commits to the slant route before exploding to the corner of the end zone.
He again gets his subtle push-off to create separation at the catch point and then finishes the rep with a great over-the-shoulder catch. Elite play by Johnson.
Sticking with Johnson, let’s take a look at him at the bottom of the screen.
This is the same technique Claypool used on his wide-release post route shown earlier in the article. Johnson pushes vertical, right at the corner, then stems outside forcing the corner to turn his shoulder. Then, once he gets on the corner’s toes plants and explodes inside, leaving the corner in the dust.
One last look at a Johnson route before moving on to some other guys.
Here, he’s lined up at the bottom of the screen. Watch him foot fire off the line while still pressing up the field. Then, he slaps the corners hands opposite and explodes inside, creating 5+ yards of separation on a simple mini-dig route.
We don’t see Claypool in this section enough, but I pulled two nice reps from him in the route-running department against the Chargers (not including the wide-release post shown earlier).
He’s lined up at the top of the screen, out wide. He uses some tempo steps while pressing the corner’s outside shoulder. Just like the post routes seen from Johnson and him earlier, he gets on the defender’s toes, forcing them to turn their shoulders outside before exploding across their face towards the middle of the field.
Slant routes, especially in the red zone is an area we saw Claypool succeed in college and haven’t been seen enough in the pros. This is more on the coaching staff not giving him the opportunities than him not winning the reps.
The below clip Claypool is lined up by himself at the bottom of the screen.
He really struggles in press man situations, so this rep was really exciting to see. He again presses the outside shoulder of the corner, a common theme in this game, before swiping and exploding up the numbers. Can’t get more open than that. Unfortunately, he was the last guy in the quarterback’s progression lining up on the backside of the play or it would have been an easy pitch and catch touchdown.
Ray-Ray McCloud was had himself another solid game, following his breakout against the Detroit Lions. This week, making some clutch catches on third down.
McCloud is lined up as the WR3 in the bunch to the right of the formation. He has a patient release, waiting for the other receivers to clear the area before pressing up the field. His patience lulls the defender to sleep before he slam steps and explodes outside on the out route, giving Roethlisberger plenty of space to fit the ball in there for the third-down conversion.
I feel like I find an ugly mesh play every week for this Steelers receiver corps every week.
This time it’s due to Diontae Johnson. Watch as he starts his drag across the field, he makes it to the LAC 49-yard line and then changes his path and ends up tipping the ball around the PIT 49-yard line. Those two yards are the difference between this being completed and a potential tipped interception. Johnson has to keep on his same path here and not drift backfield.
Yards After Catch
Here’s our weekly YAC clip of Diontae Johnson on a slant route.
This has truly been a staple of this article for the last four weeks. It’s a matter of when not if Johnson will break a slant into the open field. The best part of it is it’s always been in an extremely critical time of the game. All four have come in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Claypool also threw his hat in the ring with some YAC plays of his own.
Mesh routes, as earlier mentioned, have been a struggle point for the Steelers this year for whatever reason. However, when it works it can be a thing of beauty. Claypool is able to power through a reroute from the linebacker and work into a voided zone. Once he catches it, there’s nothing but green grass in front of him for an easy explosive play.
This play is ALL McCloud. With the edge defender come off free, the Steelers were expecting him to work down the line.
Except, he’s not fooled at all and it’s looking like it’s about to be a 10-yard loss. Luckily, McCloud is elusive enough to work back and shrug off the tackle. Then he bursts down the sidelines and is able to salvage a six-yard gain on a great individual effort on his part.
The run game was an extremely disappointing part of the Steelers game as a whole on Sunday night, especially when you take into account it was against the NFL’s worst-ranked run defense.
Due to the throttling of the run game, the receivers didn’t have a big part, however, the one chance they had a chance to get involved, they failed.
While it’s a correct take to say Najee should have cut this upfield, it doesn’t excuse Claypool’s blocking effort on this play. He’s made it a habit on this RPO looks to just simply stand around if it’s not a pass. As soon as he realizes it’s a run he should be turning around and finding his man to block. Instead, he gets Najee Harris’s knees taken out.
If Claypool blocks his man here, even with Harris incorrectly bouncing the run outside, it’s likely he’s able to reach the edge and get the first down. Claypool’s lack of effort ruins effectively ruins those chances.
Overall, the Steelers’ receivers had one of their best games of the 2021 season against the Chargers, and the season-high 37 points back that statement up. Let’s hope they can keep the arrow pointing up as they head into a must-win AFC-North matchup in Cincinnati.