The Pittsburgh Steelers are leading the league in multiple statistical categories, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Over the past few weeks of the season the Steelers offense has taken over the top spot in a category that no NFL offense wants to hold. The Steelers lead the league in dropped passes.
That distinction has proven to be especially daunting for a Steelers offense struggling to run the football effectively, having to instead rely on a short passing attack to help compensate for the lack of a running game. The Steelers have needed two or three completions to garner a first down and retain position of the football on multiple occasions this season. Yes, my friends, you read that comment correctly. Two or three completions to gain a first down. Ten measly yards! I have never seen that with the frequency of this years Steelers offense in my life. They have become the dictionary definition of a short passing attack.
I never thought I would ever say that about a Ben Roethlisberger led offense. The huge, big armed QB has long been renowned as a gunslinger who loved to throw the deep ball. That is no longer the case obviously, and the reasons why are as varying as they are numerous. There have even been whispers among the haters that suggest a loss of arm strength. That idea is both illogical and terribly uneducated.
Ben still has a strong arm, and has proven just that on many occasions to those paying attention. I have noticed Ben isn't stepping into his throws with the same conviction as he did earlier in the season, probably due to the discomfort in his knees that has been reported since the Dallas Cowboys game. Lower leg pain can greatly impact any QB's fundamentals and follow through. Apparently many self appointed experts have never tried to throw a ball in athletic competition. The absence of starting center Maurkice Pouncey and other injuries to the interior offensive line has definitely affected the pocket and Ben's ability to confidently step into some throws.
The aforementioned dropped passes have been the biggest culprit in hindering the Steelers from moving the football effectively and retaining the football. The Steelers receiving core has been afflicted with a severe case of the dropsies, with WR Diontae Johnson suffering in critical condition. The Steelers desperately need Johnson to return to form and play up to his immense capabilities for the Steelers shorter passing attack to be effective, because the truth is he is always open.
Early in the season it become apparent that Johnson was going to receive more than his share of the targets in the Steelers offense. There was much speculation as to just why that was. Was it because his impressive skill set was so similar to the legendary Antonio Brown, making it almost mandatory that Ben Roethlisberger throw him the football quite often out of shear muscle memory? That seemed like a logical possibility, but the ensuing weeks have revealed the answer. The truth is Ben has been looking his way so often because he gains almost instant separation off the line of scrimmage. He is instantly open, a great trait to have in the Steelers current get the ball out quick passing attack.
4th quarter, 13:44. Diontae Johnson is the receiver to the top of the screen.
That makes the fact that Johnson presently leads the NFL in dropped passes that much more troublesome. Johnson led the league last season in average yards of separation gained per attempt, one of those Next-Gen stats. That's all well and good, but it proves rather meaningless if he regularly fails to complete the catch.
Johnson is only in his second professional season, and is still building confidence in his own abilities at the NFL level. He is still trying to develop chemistry and earn the trust of his franchise QB. Ben seems to be committed to making their pairing a special connection, but Johnson has to hold up his end of the deal. His miscues have definitely impacted his psyche and self confidence, but the solution to his dilemma is actually rather simple.
Looking back over his numerous drops, the vast majority have happened when he has tried to make a move before securing the catch. Not looking the ball all the way in so to speak. This is a common occurrence around the league as it pertains to dropped passes, and they tend to come in bunches. It becomes psychological when players tend to overcompensate. That is where Johnson is at the moment.
Johnson depends on his incredible short area quickness to gain separation and rack up yards after the catch. He needs to hesitate for a moment at the catch point to assure completion prior to making a move. The solution to the situation is not rocket science here folks, and Johnson is more than capable of making the necessary adjustments. He has to, because the future success of the Steelers offense depends on it.