As we wrote earlier Thursday, Diontae Johnson’s game has taken an obvious leap in year three, by far the best receiver on the team and one of the league’s best route runners. Some of that improvement is obvious, nearly eliminating the drops which plagued him a year ago. But some of that growth is less obvious. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Johnson credited his film study and game preparation as one key of his success.
“I like to see who I’m going up against, who they got,” he told reporters via Steelers.com. “Who travels, if they play right or left. Certain stuff like that. And I just like to know who the backups is as well. So just in case one of them go down, I know what to expect.”
It’s those details that separate the NFL players who succeed and the ones who fail. Talk to many current and former players, and they’ll say 90% of the game is mental. Every player who makes it to Sundays is talented, part of the 1% of all football players. The guys who put in the work and know their opponent are the ones who will win. Understanding how corners play you, how much they like to press, what routes they struggle with the most, how aggressive they are on the football, are all important keys for a receiver.
Johnson said he didn’t do much of that at Toledo but quickly picked up on its value once in the NFL.
“I wasn’t really big on [film study] coming in and league or whatnot. Now, I feel like that’s helped me out a lot. Like I said, just knowing who’s going to be out there and who’s not just allows me to just lock in and know what to expect come game time. Just know who I’m gonna be playing against and who’s going to travel with me or who’s not.”
The opponent this week is the Baltimore Ravens, and the man most likely assigned to cover Johnson will be Marlon Humphrey. Humphrey is regarded as one of the league’s top cornerbacks and will travel with the opponent’s top weapon, which Johnson is. Johnson told reporters he’s tailoring some of his drills to combat Humphrey’s ball-hawking style, forcing a league-high eight fumbles in 2020.
“I know this week Marlon Humphrey, the type of player he is. He’s aggressive. So he going to try to pull your pull and tug on you. So I just practiced that to get kind of used to that. So whenever he does that, I’m not shocked by like. I know I’m expecting that.”
In two games against the Ravens last season, Johnson was quieted. One catch in the first meeting, eight catches for 46 yards in the rematch. Pittsburgh will need Johnson to have a bigger performance this time around as the Steelers have relied on him as much as ever.