The Steelers have dropped a lot of passes over the last two games. Depending on how you count, at least a dozen, and nearly all of Pittsburgh’s target receivers have seen at least one pass carom off their hands and into the turf.
It’s been a big problem, as the Steelers’ offense, which had become accustomed to moving the ball down field with a plethora of short, quick passes has been stymied in part by adjustments made by opposing defenses, but also because its receivers have not executed the scheme at a high level.
What can be done about it?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he can help by being a little bit more precise with his passes. Wide receiver James Washington said he felt that the receivers needed to focus a little bit more on securing the catch before they worry about what they’re going to do with the ball.
Head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t seem to care for the reasons why his team’s offense has suddenly turned into a blooper reel. He just wants it to stop, and he sent a strong message to his receivers during his press conference on Tuesday: Catch the ball or someone else will.
“They can catch the ball or they can get replaced by those who will catch it,” Tomlin said. “It’s just as simple as that. As I have often said, I expect guys to make routine plays routinely. When there is a pattern of that not happening, then we have to look at who we are throwing the ball to.”
Tomlin also set aside the idea of extra practice time for fundamentals or lining his receivers up at the Juggs machine to make a point.
“The coaching of catching the football for those who are employed to do it at this level is not something that I have a lot of patience for,” he said. “Those guys’ job is to catch the football, particularly routine ones.”
The Steelers have 33 drops this season to lead the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference, and their 6.8% drop rate is tied with the Detroit Lions for the worst in the league.
Pittsburgh’s worst offender on a percentage basis among players with more than 10 targets this season has been running back James Conner (10%), but Conner was absent for each of the last two games as the drops became a significant issue.
Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is second with a 9.4% drop rate and first on the team with 10 overall drops. Tight end Eric Ebron is right behind Johnson with seven drops on 9% of his targets. Those two players are also first and tied for third on the team in targets, something that Tomlin threatened might change.
“Where there’s a pattern, you should expect to see to see less opportunities,” he said. “That is just fair, that’s just part of this business and what this game is about.”