Mike Tomlin to Steelers Receivers: ‘Catch the Ball or Get Replaced’

Diontae Johnson

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images Diontae Johnson of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops a pass against the Tennessee Titans on October 25, 2020.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin found himself talking about dropped passes at his weekly press conference for the second week in a row. And it sounds as if he is getting very tired of watching the ball go through the hands of his receivers.

“They can catch the ball, or they can get replaced by someone who will catch it,” offered Tomlin. “It’s just as simple as that. Like I’ve often said, I expect guys to make routine plays, routinely. When there is a pattern of that not happening, we have to look at who we are throwing the ball to.”


Which Steelers Receivers are the Worst Offenders?

The question is: Who would be the first receiver to get benched, and who would Tomlin turn to if a benching were to occur? After all, pretty much every Steelers receiver has been susceptible to drops of late.

But second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson and starting tight end Eric Ebron have seemingly been the worst offenders, as both have had multiple drops in back-to-back games.

Per an analysis by Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, against Baltimore “Diontae Johnson had three, Chase Claypool two, Eric Ebron two, James Washington one and JuJu Smith-Schuster one.”

Both Johnson and Ebron dropped multiple passes versus Washington as well, and Ebron also failed to come down with another Ben Roethlisberger throw in the end zone.


Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron: “Inconsistent” Hands?

One problem is that both Johnson and Ebron have a reputation for having suspect hands.

In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of Johnson as a draft prospect related to his “inconsistent” hands, with thedraftnetwork.com noting that “he has his share of disappointing drops. Does not consistently get his hands properly aligned to catch the football. Does not regularly or naturally pluck the football outside his frame.”

Moreover, according to Pro Football Reference, Johnson has already fumbled seven times in his NFL career, with five of those fumbles coming last season.

As for Ebron, his reputation for dropping passes followed him from Detroit to Indianapolis and now to Pittsburgh.

Here’s how one Colts fan portrayed Ebron’s hands on Twitter.


Mike Tomlin’s Patience

The only thing that remains to be seen now is how much more tolerance Tomlin exhibits before he benches one or more of his pass catchers.

If it’s Johnson who gets sidelined, it’s doubtful that Tomlin would go deeper into his bench. It might simply mean more snaps for the likes of third-year WR James Washington and rookie Chase Claypool.

If Ebron is benched, the Steelers would turn to backup tight end Vance McDonald, who is a capable receiver, just not nearly as dynamic as Ebron. Of course, a receiver’s big-play potential doesn’t mean much when he doesn’t secure the football.

“The coaching of catching the football to those who are employed to do it at this level is not something I have a lot of patience for,” concluded Tomlin, who played wide receiver himself in college at William & Mary.

“It’s not something any of us have a lot of patience for,” he added. “Those guys job is to catch the football, particularly the routine ones. Where there’s a pattern you should expect to see less opportunities. That is just fair. That is just part of what this business and our game is about.”

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