Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson hasn’t had the season many Steelers fans have expected. Johnson, who had 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns this season, has yet to record a game with more than 84 receiving yards and has a rather pedestrian 51 receptions for 456 yards through seven games this year. Johnson talked to the media today about talking to rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett about building their relationship and seeing what he can do to get more looks.
“Really just having that one-on-one with him, just trying to see what I can do. Trying to get in his vision more, try to get him to look my way,” Johnson said via Chris Adamski of TribLive. Just trying to get more opportunities, that’s all it is. Trying to build our relationship more, that’s going to grow over time. I’m not really stressed, just trying to communicate. That’s a big key,” he added.
Johnson is coming off a game where he registered just four receptions for 28 yards, which is his second-lowest output of the season behind a two-reception, 11-yard performance in Week Four against the New York Jets. One of the key reasons behind Johnson’s production is his route tree, which Dave Bryan took a look at this morning. Johnson’s ability to gain yards after the catch is one of his biggest strengths, but so far this season, he’s been totally misused and hasn’t been running routes that allow for him to utilize that skill.
In addition, anytime a team changes quarterbacks, there’s usually going to be a period where the quarterbacks and receivers have to get used to one another. By last year with Ben Roethlisberger, who Johnson showed love to on social media after Roethlisberger praised him on his podcast, Johnson and Roethlisberger knew each other’s tendencies and developed a rapport that Johnson just doesn’t have yet Pickett and never really got a good chance to develop with Mitch Trubisky. Couple that with Johnson being misused by the coaching staff, and there’s at least somewhat of an explanation for his numbers being down.
The fact remains that the Steelers are a better team when Johnson is playing well. Obviously, they can’t just force-feed him the ball, especially when teams are scheming against him to limit his impact, but the Steelers need to get more creative in their usage of Johnson. Whether it’s expanding his route tree to more slant, screen or drag routes to let him create after the catch or moving him around the offense, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to get Johnson going and help him develop chemistry with Pickett. The two of them being in communication is a great sign to help build that relationship, and as Johnson said, it’s something that will grow over time.
But for Johnson, showing Pickett he can be a reliable target and make plays in-game and Pickett showing Johnson he’s willing to get him the ball is a really good way to build that relationship. We’ll see what the second half of the season holds, but getting Johnson back to his pre-2022 production level should be a priority for the Steelers.