If Sunday night’s game is to be Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s last he will ever play, then it’s fair to say that the team did not provide him with the send-off that he deserves. While not dismissing his own level of play, there was very little that anybody did around him that was of particular benefit to the pursuit of winning.
Fingers could be pointed all over the place, but it certainly must be said that Roethlisberger’s skill-position players, his pass targets, left a lot on the table. That goes especially for his top two targets on the season, wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, the former with at least a couple of drops and the latter simply not making plays he should be making.
When asked after the game if he felt that there were plays that his skill players were leaving out on the field, head coach Mike Tomlin shot back, “Ya think? Yes”. It’s really the only answer that you can give when you have the level of poor execution that we saw too frequently, particularly at the top of the depth chart.
Johnson was targeted a game-high 10 times, but only came up with five receptions for 34 yards, one of which did go for a touchdown. To his credit, a couple of the catches that he did make, including the score, were high-quality plays that are not easy to make from either a route-running or fielding perspective. But as Tomlin likes to say, it’s about making the routine plays routinely.
As for Claypool, he caught just three of his seven targets, and on multiple occasions failed to deliver on catchable balls that could have been big plays. Even JuJu Smith-Schuster, a surprise return, did put one ball on the ground amid his eight targets.
Though he was only targeted two times, the player who benefitted Roethlisberger most was the outgoing James Washington—and I mean outgoing in the sense of him leaving in free agency. He caught both of his targets for big plays, one a 22-yard sideline snare, the second one in the end zone for what proved to be Roethlisberger’s final touchdown pass.
Tight end Zach Gentry, in case you were wondering, caught Roethlisberger’s final NFL pass. He caught all four of his targets for 33 yards in the game. He will now forever be the answer to a very specific trivia question (not to imply that that’s all he is or has been).
If this game has reminded us of anything, it is that the Steelers lack a truly reliable dynamic pass-catcher. Johnson looked the part for much of the season, but his drop issues crept up in the back half of the regular season, and he’s had a few inauspicious security issues, as well, whether in terms of footing or, worse, fumbles. They’re going to need somebody dependable for the next man under center.