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‘They Weren’t Letting Diontae Get Singled Up:’ Pickett Explains Limited Targets To Johnson

Going into the 2022 season, the expectation was that wide receiver Diontae Johnson would be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top option. He got rewarded with a new extension, and after eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark last year, it seemed as if Johnson was poised to do so again. Well, his performance this year hasn’t been that of a top receiver, as he has just 47 receptions for 435 yards and 0 touchdowns through 10 games. He hasn’t been getting the ball nearly as much as you would expect, and after today’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Kenny Pickett talked about why Johnson wasn’t targeted as much tonight.

“With the coverage they were playing, I felt they weren’t letting Diontae get singled up. That’s frustrating when he’s that good of a player, that talented and they try to take him out of the game plan. There’s some things, maybe move him around more, get him in different spots to try to get him the ball, but when they’re playing a two-high shell and they got a safety over the top, it’s tough,” Pickett said in his postgame press conference via Steelers.com.

It seemed as if the offense today was geared more toward rookie George Pickens (eight targets, four receptions, 83 yards and a touchdown) and tight end Pat Freiermuth (12 targets, eight receptions, 79 yards). Johnson was targeted just five times, and maybe that’s a good thing. If Johnson wasn’t in single coverage and the Bengals game planned to take him away, Pickett spreading the ball around and not forcing the ball to Johnson is a good sign for his development. This is the second straight week now that Pickett hasn’t had a turnover, and while he hasn’t played well by any means, he’s at least keeping possession.

It would be smart though for Pittsburgh to try and gameplan a way to scheme Johnson open. Even with Cincinnati trying to take him away, moving around the formation and giving the defense different looks could help get him in space and get him open. Now we know Matt Canada isn’t known for his diverse play calling, so it’s not really something I would expect Pittsburgh to do. But Johnson is a talented receiver, and getting the ball in his hands more is a good thing for the offense. Obviously, they aren’t going to force it to him in double or triple coverage, but if they can find ways to get the ball in his hands in space, the Steelers should look to do so, even if it means straying from the norm.

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