Diontae Johnson takes two steps forward, one step back vs Panthers

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks to wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks to wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Diontae Johnson has been wildly inconsistent in his fourth NFL season. Here was the good and bad from the Steelers receiver against the Panthers. 

It’s been an aggravating year for Diontae Johnson and the Pittsburgh Steelers. After putting up excellent numbers with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm in 2021, Johnson earned a rich new deal that includes over $18.3 million in new annual earnings for his efforts.

Sadly, there’s no arguing that the Steelers haven’t gotten their money’s worth out of that contract yet. For the vast majority of the season, Johnson has been both inconsistent and inefficient with his looks. While Matt Canada’s questionable play design certainly doesn’t help, Johnson has been pretty bad with the ball in his hands this year, and fans have gotten on his case constantly for running backward after the catch.

A mere 6.1 yards per target and 2.4 yards after the catch have made Johnson one of the least efficient starting receivers in the NFL this year, according to ESPN stats. Fortunately, he took a step in the right direction with his performance against the Panthers… at least, for the most part

Steelers Diontae Johnson takes two steps forward and one step back

When it comes to his performance this past Sunday, all fans should be pleased. While there have been games this year where he hasn’t been worth throwing to, Johnson made the most of his looks — turning 10 targets into 10 receptions for 98 yards.

In addition to catching every pass thrown his way, Johnson converted on a few key third downs (one of which essentially put the game on ice), and he had a few impressive plays after the catch this week.

Sadly, some of the credit he earned in this contest becomes negated thanks to a bone-headed taunting penalty in the second half. After making a pair of defenders miss in space, Johnson got in the face of a defensive back for what was an easy taunting call for the officials to make. He later claimed that he was ‘in the moment’ and he didn’t realize that he didn’t see the defender there.

Regardless of why Johnson risked doing something like this in the moment, it did happen. The Pittsburgh Steelers were very fortunate that this drive still resulted in points. Otherwise, this head-scratching penalty had the potential to impact the outcome of the game.

Johnson wasn’t the only player who made a bad decision after the whistle. Johnson’s taunting looks like a pat on the back after watching Marcus Allen enter the Panther huddle, completely unprovoked. In addition, George Pickens, Mason Cole, and Najee Harris each had brief altercations after the play in this contest.

While the decision to get in a defender’s face after a nice play was foolish, I don’t want to take anything away from Diontae Johnson and the game that he had. It’s hard to ask him to do much more than he did in his contest. In most weeks this year, fans have gotten frustrated when he’s targeted 10+ times, but we certainly can’t complain when he’s catching everything thrown at him and moving the chains.

Trending. Steelers win vs Panthers is met with a bag of mixed feelings. light

Johnson is on a mini hot streak these past two weeks — catching 16 of 18 targets for 180 yards. If he keeps up at this rate, he could certainly live up to the lofty expectations the Steelers had for him when they gave him a huge contract last offseason.