PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – Frustrated at several points this season, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said teams are scheming to stop Diontae Johnson. He called him a ‘known commodity’ and that team’s agendas are to stop him, particularly in significant moments (only 22 first down catches this year).
Tomlin said Johnson breaking out of this might not have as much to do with him as with the other receivers.
“So how do you open up opportunities for a guy like that, other guys make plays,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “Pickens had a nice game. Freiermuth had a nice game. Those things create opportunities and balance within your attack and opportunities for a guy like Diontae.”
There was no freak-out in the locker room by Johnson, he said he didn’t want to speak on that too much. He said it’s the situation he’s in and he has to deal with it.
After a career-best 107 catches for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021, Johnson looked to turn that Pro Bowl year into a long-term contract. He ended up with a two-year deal worth $18 million per signed in early August. He said he was anxious to prove the team right. Just turning 26-years-old, he wanted to build not only on last year, but the 923 yards and seven touchdowns from 2020. He talked of retiring a Steeler and how much he loved it here.
Ten games into the season, Johnson has NO touchdowns and NO 100-yard games. He was targeted five times Sunday, catching four of them for 21 yards. He’s had similar numbers this season
· 2 catches for 11 yards against the Jets
· 5 catches for 28 yards against the Dolphins
· 5 catches for 35 yards against Philadelphia
Johnson is 15th in the league in catches, but 49th in yards. His yards-per-target is 5.3 and his YAC (Yards After Catch) is a paltry 1.9 per reception.
Tomlin mentioned earlier that Pickens had a nice game against the Bengals with four receptions for 83 yards. He also quick to point out there is much more ‘meat on the bone’ when it comes to Pickens. He really can improve in all areas, especially the nuances of the game and he expects that to happen. That genuinely should alleviate some of those issues finding Diontae. So too is the continued growth of quarterback Kenny Pickett.
While that develops, Tomlin doesn’t see Johnson as a distraction. No Antonio Brown-type blowups. Johnson comes out to practice first and one of the last to leave. Tomlin believes Johnson’s disappointment is not an issue in his locker room.
“He’s a professional,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, there are frustrations. He wants to be a component of why we win and a significant component. He is also a professional and he understands the dynamics of team play and what has to transpire to get opportunities. As a young guy, he’s been a beneficiary of that in the past as people have focused their energy on other known guys.”
The offense is better with Diontae Johnson making significant plays. It’s likely too late for this year, but building something with Kenny Pickett in the last seven games would go towards an improved 2023.