You still need to squint a bit to see it –– but this Pittsburgh Steelers receiving corps looks fearsome.
“Easy, Hunter. The Steelers rank 25th in passing yards per game. They don’t have a receiver in the top 10 in any major category. And a receiver finally caught a touchdown in *checks notes* Week 6!”
Hey, I said you need to squint a bit.
The Steelers’ receivers –– and the team’s offense in general –– displayed a lethargic brand of football as the team strolled into its Week 6 showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Acrisure Stadium.
Despite boasting three players with huge upsides in Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Chase Claypool, the group just wasn’t it.
Something was missing.
Sunday, something was found.
“I think it’s just about establishing your role, so I’m trying to establish the role where I can be counted on and they can have faith in the play calls and all that,” Claypool said at his locker after the game. “So it was good. It’s a good feeling.”
Claypool paced the Steelers’ receivers throughout their 20-18 win over the Buccaneers with seven catches on seven targets for 96 yards and –– wait for it –– one touchdown.
With 9:58 left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers leading 13-12, Mitch Trubisky dropped back to pass and:
Trubisky finds Claypool for six! @steelers take a 20-12 lead with 9:55 to go in the 4th.
— NFL (@NFL) October 16, 2022
There it is. The receivers put one on the board –– and it mattered big time to them.
“Yeah, we want to be a group that can be leaned on and can be counted on,” Claypool said. “So [it’s] super cool [to catch the first touchdown by a receiver]. I think that gives confidence in the room, a little bit of momentum in our room. So hopefully we can stack that and continue to be a bigger part of the game.”
“Finally broke the [streak],” Johnson said. “Chase was there to get in the box today. We got to keep it going. Hopefully me, GP, or any one of us can get in the box as well. I’m sure we’re going to get ready for this week and just keep working.”
One touchdown marks a great start for the unit. Now, as Johnson notes, it’s time for more.
“[Claypool] showed that he can make those plays when we need him, and I’m sure he’s going to continue to do it,” Johnson said.
Johnson gets it. The Steelers’ No. 1 option signed a two-year contract extension this offseason, elevating expectations for his play on the field. While he hasn’t exactly posted All-Pro numbers through six games, Johnson does lead the squad in both receptions (33) and yards (295).
If you’re maintaining that squint, you can see massive promise in Johnson’s game –– and it’s existed since his 2019 rookie year.
Pickens, meanwhile, put on a show throughout training camp. The rookie out of Georgia turned heads early and often in Latrobe, generating buzz and establishing himself as a player to watch at the next level. He started slowly with just five catches for 65 yards in his first three games. But he’s picked up the pace rapidly since.
In his last three outings, Pickens caught 15 passes for 212 yards, doing stuff like this:
— lowlight heaven (@lowlightheaven) September 23, 2022
This catch by George Pickens was ruled by Next Gen Stats as the most improbable catch of the week. It only had a completion probability of 19.1%.pic.twitter.com/Zv3jgA6xA6
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 5, 2022
…along the way.
Now, with Claypool potentially finding his groove and reclaiming his rookie form here in Year 3, the receiving corps begins to take shape.
“Chase stepped up real big,” Johnson said. “Those waning moments, those big third-down catches he had? I’m happy for him. He’s had a lot on his shoulders and whatnot. He’s been prevailing, and I’m going to continue to be there for him, whatever questions he got, just anything –– I’m going to keep helping him out.”
Johnson is 26 years old. Claypool is 24. Pickens is 21.
Their best football lies ahead –– and if Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers serves as any indication, Steelers fans might start seeing it more and more often when these three take the field.
“We just wanted to get things going in the right step,” Johnson said. “[Offensively], we’ve been harping on this whole week starting fast and putting points on the board. We did that, and just need to continue to impose our will on the defense, whoever we’re out there playing, and just let them know that we mean business every time we step out there on the field.”
This win over the Buccaneers was nice, no doubt. But the trio still needs to prove it on a weekly basis.
Only that will open our eyes to their true potential.