(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
It has been well documented that the Steelers' receivers have struggled of late when it comes to catching the ball. In an unofficial count, I have the receivers with 19 drops in the last three games. Diontae Johnson has struggled the most when it comes to drops.
Johnson leads the league in drops with 12. To put it in perspective, the Arizona Cardinals as a team have just 10 drops this year. The Steelers lead the league in drops with 37, according to Pro Football Focus.
Johnson had two drops on three targets on the Steelers' first two possessions of the game against the Buffalo Bills and was benched for the rest of the first half. Mike Tomlin mentioned in his weekly press conference before the Bills game that he would bench receivers if they didn't make the routine catches and he stuck with his word.
"When I dropped the first one, I thought I have to make a play," Johnson said. "When I dropped the second one, I had it, tucked it and it slipped out of my hands. After that he pulled me. I was upset. At the end of the day I have to catch the ball, plain and simple."
To Johnson's credit, he did bounce-back from the two drops in the first quarter. Johnson returned in the third quarter and finished the game with four receptions for 40 yards.
"I thought he responded appropriately," Tomlin said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference when asked about putting Johnson back in the game. "He didn't pout. He waited for his next opportunity and when his next opportunity came, he was productive. So, we'll move forward."
Ben Roethlisberger went over to Johnson on the sidelines late in the first half and gave the second-year wide receiver some encouragement.
"We had a nice talk on the sideline at the end of the first half," Roethlisberger said. "I won't tell you what we said. If he wants to divulge what was said, that's fine. Just trying to encourage him, and I was encouraged by the second half. I thought he came out and made some plays and showed some physicality in some of those catches, putting his head down and trying to get his yards and stuff like that. I was encouraged by his bounce back, really proud of him."
Johnson appreciated Roethlisberger's talk with him and was encouraged that the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback didn't give up on him.
"It showed that he cares about me," Johnson said. "Some players wouldn't do that. For him to come up to me and give me some motivational speech to get my mind back right, it felt good to me. It got me going. He was telling me to keep my head up and asking me if I really wanted to play. I answered yes, I really want to play and help this team win. I came back and went out there and made plays I knew I was supposed to make whenever the ball came to me. I felt like I got back to myself as the ball was coming my way more."
Right now Johnson just has a case of the yips when it comes to catching the ball and it comes down to mind of matter.
"It has to do with a little bit of overthinking," Johnson said. "Overthinking about catching the ball. Once you get a drop that is all you 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. You don't want to try and shy away from it. I have been dropping the ball, but I don't let that define me as a person and a player. I know what I am capable of doing. 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."
Johnson is second on the team in receptions (69) and leads the team in receiving yards (694). He's also the best route runner on the team. He just has to mentally get over the drops and focus on the task at hand.
"That is what we do for a living, caching the ball," Johnson said. "It's been a lack of focus. We know what we are supposed to do when we catch the ball. We try not to think about it too much. We are just trying to go forward by making plays and locking in a little more than what you normally would do."