Steelers’ Diontae Johnson Offers Explanation for Dropped Passes

Diontae Johnson Steelers

Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is chased by Micah Hyde (#23) and Tre'Davious White (#27) of the Buffalo Bills during the fourth quarter on December 13, 2020.

On Saturday Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson spoke with the media and had a chance to discuss his performance in last Sunday night’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, when he was benched by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after dropping two passes early in the first quarter.

“When I dropped the first one, I thought I have to make a play, try to do something. When I dropped the second one, I had it, tucked it and it slipped out of my hands. After that he pulled me,” related Johnson, speaking about Tomlin. “I was a little upset. At the end of the day, I have to catch the ball, plain and simple.”

Diontae Johnson’s Dropped Passes: Explained

Asked by Brooke Pryor of ESPN why he has had a problem with dropped passes, especially of late, Johnson said:

“It has to do with a little bit of overthinking—overthinking about catching the ball. Once you get those drops, you kind of get it in the back of your head like, ‘catch it, catch it, catch it.’ It’s all you really think about. When you see the ball coming your way and you are thinking about it in the back of your mind, you are just like, ‘ugh.’

Ugh, indeed, as Johnson leads the NFL in dropped passes with 11, including two versus Buffalo and three a week earlier against Washington, according to ESPN.

Ben Roethlisberger’s ‘Motivational Speech’

But Johnson says he got an emotional lift from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had a one-on-one with the second-year wide receiver with approximately two minutes to go in the first half of the Buffalo game.

“It showed that he cares about me, cause some players probably wouldn’t even do that,” noted Johnson, who said he already knew at that point that he was going to get a chance to redeem himself in the second half.

“For [Roethlisberger] to come up to me and give me some motivational speech or whatnot, just to help me get my mind back right or whatnot, it felt good to me and that got me going,” enough so that Johnson finished the Buffalo game with four catches for 40 yards on seven targets.

Meanwhile, he insists his confidence hasn’t really waned, in part because of what he accomplished earlier this year.

“I know what I am capable of doing,” he said. “I showed that earlier in the season up until this point. I keep a mindset, that next play mentality, and when the ball comes my way try to make a play.”

Steelers Pass Catchers Lead the NFL in Drops

But it doesn’t help that several of Johnson’s teammates have also had a problem holding onto the ball this season, especially in recent games.

According to ESPN, the Steelers lead the NFL in dropped passes (33) and drop rate (6.3%), with the team’s drop rate at 9.9% in the past three games.

Johnson says that the coaching staff has reacted with “tough love” in trying to get the receiving corps re-focused, if you will.

“It’s just been like a lack of focus,” Johnson said about the drops. “We know what we’re supposed to do when we catch the ball…. We try not to think about that too much because if you think about it, it’s going to show in your play. We’re just trying to go far by making plays each and every snap, just locking in a little more than what you normally would do….”

As for the forthcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, Johnson said that the opportunity to practice with Roethlisberger on both Friday and Saturday this week was “very valuable, just to get the timing down, just to work on those little things that you normally do when you catch the ball, because it builds repetition and that translates to the game.”

Johnson & Co. better hope so, as the Steelers desperately need a victory—not just to secure the AFC North title—but to snap the team’s two-game losing streak and build momentum for the playoffs. After all, the schedule gets a lot tougher in Weeks 16 and 17, when the Steelers will be facing a pair of likely playoff teams in the Indianapolis Colts (9-4) and Cleveland Browns (9-4), both of which are fighting to earn the highest possible playoff seeds.

But first things first: The Steelers kick off at 8:20 pm ET on Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

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