Matt Canada On Diontae Johnson’s Hidden Yardage: ‘These Things Don’t Show Up On The Stat Sheet’

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is not having an ideal season. However, they are arguably coming off their best outing yet against the New Orleans Saints, as the team rushed for over 200 yards and did not turn the ball over. One player that is having an underwhelming season is receiver Diontae Johnson. Having re-signed with the team on a two-year contract as the presumed top receiver before the season, Johnson has not surpassed 100 yards in a game this season. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was asked about and delved into Johnson’s play on Thursday according to a transcript provided by the team.

“I don’t know if he’s open a lot,” Canada said when asked whether Johnson drawing pass interference calls indicate him being frequently open. “For him, he’s finding a way to get to where he needs to be, and therefore he’s going to get a big play. Those things don’t show up in statistics. It’s a good stat to have because those yards are still real yards, but they don’t result in catches for him. He’s a guy that people have to know where he is.”

Indeed, Johnson’s route running is among his best traits as a receiver. As the team’s most targeted receiver this season as well as the past two, Johnson is certainly someone that opposing defenses are accounting for when playing the Steelers. While his lack of production is disparaging, he is playing with two new quarterbacks and chemistry is not built overnight.

The narrative of Johnson being frequently open is one that is also backed by some advanced metrics. ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics rank Johnson as the second-most open receiver in the NFL, with an open grade of 89. Notably, they grade his catching at 61 and his YAC (yards after catch) at 32.

“I’m not going to argue with your analytics,” Canada continued when asked about ESPN’s grade on Johnson. “Whatever you say. I think we’ve gotten guys in the right places, but until we get consistent results and stack a bunch of victories, I’m not going to stand up here and say anything like that. I don’t know what you’re referencing, so I don’t want to speak to it.”

Canada is on a long list of NFL coaches to not be a fan of advanced analytics. For Johnson, the plurality of his targets have been short routes between 0-9 yards (44.3), and he also has a team-leading six targets behind the line of scrimmage. Along with his excellent route running, this could explain his high open rating.

Canada’s answer indicates that the root cause of the team’s stagnant offense is execution rather than play calling or scheme. While this is true to an extent, the team’s playcalling was something that players took issue with earlier in the season.

From his expansion of the route tree to pistol formations, Canada made several notable adjustments in the team’s most recent game against the Saints. To his credit, these adjustments worked out well, and the team had its best offensive outing to date as a result. If Canada continues to make adjustments of this nature, this team’s offense may just figure it out. Complemented by a revamped defense that is welcoming reigning DPOY T.J. Watt back, the Steelers may not be easy to beat moving forward if the offense gets going.

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