There hasn’t always been smooth sailing in the wide receiver room for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. But things were more than smooth after the Steelers came back to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders, 13-10, on December 24.
Steelers leading receiver Diontae Johnson gave rookie wideout George Pickens, who leads the Steelers in receiving touchdowns and is second in receiving yardage this season, some major love with a tweet after the victory.
“GEORGE MF PICKENS,” Johnson tweeted in all caps with four explanation points in emojis.
Pickens caught the game-winning 14-yard touchdown of the 13-10 win against the Raiders with 46 seconds remaining in regulation.
Johnson, Pickens Developing Into Lethal 1-2 WR Combo
From a pure talent perspective, Johnson-Pickens is quickly becoming one of the top NFL wide receiver duos.
Johnson stole the show in Week 15 versus the Carolina Panthers. He posted 10 receptions on the 10 targets he received for 98 yards and converted key third-down opportunities into fresh downs in the 24-16 victory.
Pickens didn’t have as many opportunities but registered 2 catches for 53 yards.
In a perfect world, that’s how Johnson and Pickens will compliment each other every week — with Johnson as the possession receiver, safety valve on third downs and Pickens as the big-play threat.
Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett found Pickens for big plays down the field against the Raiders.
In addition to the game-winning touchdown, Pickens recorded the Steelers’ longest play from scrimmage with a 25-yard reception. He finished the game with 5 catches for 57 yards.
Johnson led all Steelers receivers with 64 yards on 5 receptions.
This season, Johnson and Pickens now each have at least 700 receiving yards. Johnson leads the team with 82 receptions while Pickens has a team-high 14.9 yards per catch average.
Johnson and Pickens have combined for 204 targets, which accounts for about 41% of the Steelers’ receiving targets this season.
Johnson & Pickens Gelling After Controversy?
Social media doesn’t always portray the full story to anyone’s life, let alone an athlete’s. But if Johnson’s tweet was an indication for anything, it’s that he was happy for his fellow receiver catching the game-winning touchdown on Christmas Eve.
That’s a good sign because that hasn’t necessarily always been the situation for the Steelers receivers this year.
In Week 4, Johnson reportedly got into a confrontation with former Steelers starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky about his lack of opportunities in the passing game. Johnson caught only 2 passes for 11 yards while Pickens led the team with 6 receptions for 102 yards in that contest.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin benched Trubisky at halftime of that game.
Then in Week 13, Johnson was dominating the target share while Pickens had just 2 targets. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, cameras caught Pickens yelling at coaches along the sideline to throw him the ball more often.
Johnson led the Steelers with 11 targets that week. The only other Steelers pass catcher with more than 2 targets in that game was tight end Pat Freiermuth.
As is true with any NFL team that features two capable receivers, there can be an ebb and flow with how many opportunities each wideout receives each week. For the Steelers, sometimes Johnson is going to draw the more a favorable matchup while on other occasions Pickens should get targets because of 1-on-1 coverage down the field.
The challenge for the Steelers will be keeping both guys happy. But if Johnson and Pickens can grow to be more unselfish and happy for each other, especially when the team wins, things can be a lot easier on Pickett and the Steelers offensive coaching staff.