While it wasn’t a big day statistically for him, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson did hit a significant milestone for himself, and he did it on the first play of the game. With a catch-and-run of 16 yards to open things for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the third-year veteran recorded the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
He would only catch four more passes for another 22 yards in the remaining 59-plus minutes, but that doesn’t take away from his entire body of work on the year. He now has 86 receptions in 13 games played for 1,028 yards and six touchdowns, leading the team in the first two categories and in a clear second, one behind tight end Pat Freiermuth, in the last.
“One thousand yards, I’m really happy for him to get that”, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Johnson after the game. “I know we’re talking about individuals, but that’s really cool that he got that, and happy for him. He’s a guy that teams need to keep an eye on because he’ll hurt you if you don’t”.
He was asked if he felt that the Tennessee Titans were trying to take Johnson out of the game, agreeing with the suggestion. The fact that he only saw five targets all game—a season low outside of the outlier two-target Denver game—supports that. But there was one play in particular that Roethlisberger regrets not getting to him.
“I’m kicking myself, because he had a touchdown late in that game”, he said, regarding a second-half failure to connect. “I threw it to James [Washington], got the first down, but I missed Diontae, so I’m gonna kick myself for that one”.
The play he appears to be referring to was actually not a first-down, but rather a red-zone incompletion on 3rd and 7 from the 10-yard line. Roethlisberger threw the ball to Washington up the middle into the end zone in bracketed coverage, just as Johnson was breaking open on a crossing route over the middle of the field, on which he may have had a walk-in touchdown.
There were two plays to Washington that did go for first downs–the final offensive play of the second quarter, and the final play of the third. Of the latter, Roethlisberger never even looked in Johnson’s direction on what appeared to be a go route, but it’s possible that he saw it on the All-22 after he got to the sideline. If it is that play, then unfortunately we don’t have the All-22 tape yet to show you.
Quickly scanning over the tape, it does appear that Johnson had a pretty typical game—which is to say that he did his thing and got open pretty regularly. The Titans did try some things to try to limit his availability, but we have been seeing opposing defenses do that already, so it’s certainly nothing they are not used to seeing.
Still, missed connections are inevitable. No quarterback is going to see the most optimal target, on time, on every single play. Roethlisberger and Johnson have as good of a connection that we’re probably going to see for a while—so we might as well appreciate it for perhaps three more games.