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Analysis

Tale of the Tape: Comparing Diontae Johnson to Antonio Brown

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At the height of his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Antonio Brown was far and away the best pass-catcher in the NFL.

In his six-year stretch of dominance with the Steelers, Brown was the only receiver in the league to register 100 catches in each of those seasons. Brown averaged an astonishing 114 catches, 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns since the 2013 season, and while he was absolutely needed to be replaced in the locker room, his production will be the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Steelers to solve.

Enter Diontae Johnson, the Steelers newest addition through the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Throughout the draft process, Johnson wasn’t very high on many boards after playing his college ball at Toledo. Johnson was scouted by draft analysts to be a day three (rounds 4-7) pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.So after the Steelers selected Johnson over the likes of more well-known names such as Hakeem Butler, Miles Boykin and Terry McLaurin, some fans didn’t know how to react. Yet the Steelers reportedly had a first-round grade on Johnson going into the draft, and were excited to take him in the third round. The Steelers weren’t the only ones that saw potential in Johnson, either.

After digging through a myriad of analysis and scouting reports for Johnson, one common name kept re-appearing for Johnson’s NFL player comparison: Antonio Brown.

With both players hailing from MAC schools with similar play-types, the “shifty receiver who runs good routes” comp to Brown could be considered a lazy one at best. Sure, they play to a similar feel, but that alone shouldn’t peg Johnson in the same class as Brown. Yet when you compare the measurables of both players at the time of the NFL Combine, it’s hard to ignore the similarities:

As you can see on the table above, Johnson is almost a carbon copy of Brown in every physical category listed when he entered the league in 2010. As for comparing Brown/Johnson in terms of production coming out of school, Brown dusts Johnson’s career numbers. With both players playing three seasons in college, Brown had 305 career receptions for 3,199 yards at Central Michigan compared to Johnson’s 135 receptions for 2, 235 yards at Toledo. While Brown remains on an entirely different world of efficiency, Johnson actually has one more receiving touchdown (23) than Brown did (22) with a larger yards per reception (16.6) than Brown (10.5).

Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson was one of the best all-around route runners going into his senior season, as he earned a 140.1 passer rating when targeted. Johnson was ranked as the 11th best receiver heading into the 2019 NFL Draft by PFF.

However, as great as numbers are to look at, tape doesn’t lie. If Johnson truly is getting compared to Brown, there better be tape to back it up in different aspects of the game.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Brown and Johnson had similar impacts on special teams, as both proved to be valuable as return men. Johnson only needs a small window of daylight to turn the jets on, similar to Brown when the ball’s in his hands.

In terms of body adjustment, nobody is quite as good as Antonio Brown. His ability to adjust his body to the trajectory of the ball and somehow come down with it is second to none in the NFL. Yet Diontae here shows a little bit of that magic on a remarkable touchdown catch.

Again, Brown’s catch on the above video is pretty spectacular, and is consistently done a routine basis. However, if Johnson is able to maintain body control like he showed on that back shoulder catch, there are similarities in that department.

Going along the lines of body control, Johnson is somebody who can complete a play with his speed, route running and ability to snatch the football out of the sky with defenders in his area, a play Steelers fans have seen many times when Roethlisberger connects with Brown.

In terms of screen passes, you could just virtually swap the jerseys and be fine. Johnson below displays the same ability to take a screen pass and squeeze past defenders with little room next to the sideline to score.

One of Brown’s best characteristics as a receiver is his ability to not only run a route precisely, but to physically get separation and buy himself room from the defender. Another trait? His ability to turn a five yard catch into a 40 yard play. Johnson displays both here.

Going along the lines of turning something little into something great, the run after catch ability is strong within Johnson.

And if you needed any indication on who Johnson might’ve modeled his game after, look no further then his post-score celebrations.

THE VERDICT

Johnson was a surprise pick to everybody outside of the Steelers war room. Many were initially confused as to why Pittsburgh opted to select a guy who wasn’t very well-known through the draft process, yet after nearly a week of letting the pick digest and actually looking at Johnson, most Steelers fans have come to love the pick. In terms of being compared to Brown, it is a heavy comp to give a third round player. Yet after comparing their measurables and closely reviewing the film, the comparisons are understandable. Is Johnson close to the player Brown is today? Absolutely not. However, Johnson provides an identical product for the Steelers to mold for the future. Steelers fans shouldn’t expect Johnson to be like Brown, they should only expect him to be himself.

Analysis

Film Study: Conservative Game Plan Holds Steelers Back

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The Steelers squeaked out a victory from the jaws of defeat on Sunday by defeating the Denver Broncos 26-21. It was a hard-fought battle as the Steelers allowed the Broncos to creep back into the game in the second half. Turnovers and penalties were two big reasons as to why the Steelers kept them in the game. However, the conservative offensive play calling was as well. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has received due criticism before. Today, that criticism was once again well deserved.

Fichtner’s Questionable Calls Shackles Ben Roethlisberger

The biggest problem with Fichtner was his conservative play-calling once the Steelers got into unfavorable second down positions. On 2nd and long, the Steelers should be using the playmaking ability and arm of Ben Roethlisberger and the skillsets of their weapons to help get into manageable third-down situations.

 

On a 2nd and 18, these draw plays should not be in contention. One was in the very first quarter when the Steelers should be gunning for a quick start, not a first possession punt. It was after a fumble, but all Fichtner should be doing is trying to get the offense back on track. A run on second and long does not accomplish that. Then, with a two-score lead, this is a classic example of a team taking the foot off the gas pedal. Living in fear of turnover at this point is not a valid point to the contrary, especially when the passing game had been working especially well in the first half against a battered Broncos secondary. More potently, this is playing right into the Broncos strengths. Their front line, even without Von Miller, is strong and capable. It made no sense to go with a draw here on 2nd and long. Even attacking the Broncos underneath here would have worked to some degree. Anything is better than a run at this point.

On the ensuing play, the point is driven home. The Broncos have sold out for the deep pass at the sticks and all that is left is a dig at the line of scrimmage. As a result, the Steelers end up punting here. There was no guarantee that the Steelers would have scored points even if they did take the air. However, shackling Roethlisberger when he has shown the capability to beat the Broncos secondary with ease is a questionable call. If the Steelers do convert and end up scoring a touchdown or even a field goal, the entire outlook on the game is changed. Analytics have shown aggressiveness is how teams have the best probability to win games. In situations like this, that should be followed.

The Steelers’ screen game was perhaps the worst part of the game today. There was nothing going for them all day and yet Fichtner continued to call them. The screen game is nothing more than an extension of the running game. It, yet again, is something that puts Roethlisberger’s best strengths in a bind and handicaps drives. There were promising drives that showcased the quick passing game as a way to slice through the Broncos defense with ease. Even more so, Chase Claypool’s big play made it known that it was possible to push the ball down the field.

This screen play may highlight the worst of the day for the Steelers. The pre-snap look they get is just not favorable for this play. They are outmanned three to two in a blocking situation. More importantly, the Broncos are playing with even spacing and have a great angle to the boundary to make this play on JuJu Smith-Schuster. They are expecting a quick pass here and the safety at the top of the formation is ready to drive down if he sees any quick passing game concepts. That is exactly what happens and the Steelers are stopped short on a critical 3rd and 2. It is questionable why they did not check out of this anyways, but given the struggles of the screen game all day, Fichtner’s call of a screen in a pivotal point is puzzling.

Fichtner has to learn to let Roethlisberger cook and use his arm talent. The quick passing game is more than fine. Honestly, screens are not all bad, but they should not be calling as many as they did today when they were not working. If they are to be called, there has to be more pre-snap action to mess with the defense’s eyes. It was that conservative play-calling that lulled the Steelers offense and in part gave the Broncos a window to creep back into the game as a whole.

 

 

 

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Analysis

Steelers Rookie Kevin Dotson is Ready to Step Up in a Big Way

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The Steelers will be throwing their rookie guard into the fire on Sunday. With injuries to both David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski, the Steelers are being forced to throw fourth-round rookie Kevin Dotson into the starting lineup. While his college tape looks good, and Steelers Now concluded he could have starting upside, this is early for him to be starting. Dotson missed a good portion of training camp with a knee injury. Not only that but with such limited time, is he really ready to play this early? The few reps he got versus the Giants may be able to tell the story.

There were two key plays that showed Dotson might just be ready right out of the gate here, even despite the “angst” that Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner have described at starting Dotson this week.

The first play was this rep against Dexter Lawrence. Now, Lawrence is an explosive athlete. Converting speed-to-power is something he does really well. With powerful hands to jolt pass protectors as well, he can be a real problem, especially for a young guy like Dotson. However, while Dotson initially gets hit slightly back, he does a great job of engaging his core strength and anchoring down. It is obvious how strong Dotson is on the football field, but it is not just in his arms. It is his legs and core that allows him great body control to stand his ground. Other than his dependable anchor on this play, Dotson has fantastic hand placement. His hands are placed inside of Lawrence’s shoulder pads and he is able to control the point of attack here as a result. It was all through winning the leverage of the rep where Dotson was able to get those hands under Lawerence’s pads. A true people-mover it is no surprise to see Dotson play with excellent leverage.

This is a fantastic pull by Dotson on this play to spring Benny Snell. He shows off some hip stiffness, but overall moves pretty well to reach the end here and seal it off. Dotson is the very definition of mauler that plays with violence and power. The end gets shocked by Dotson’s pull and can not get free of his grasps in time to make a play on Snell. This is textbook teach tape for pulls, and while it is not flashy, it is good stuff from Dotson.

Back in training camp after he had just come back and was facing some first team competition, Dotson made sure to let it known he was up to the task.

“I feel like I can make an impact no matter what happens,” Dotson said.

Now with a flurry of injuries, it will up to Dotson to handle Jurrell Casey against the Broncos as the Steelers try to improve to 2-0. If the limited tape says anything, Dotson might just be up to that task.

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Analysis

Film Study: James Pierre’s Size, Strength Provide Upside at Cornerback

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Coming into training camp, some undrafted free agents were on the radar to possibly make the Steelers at defensive back, where the team did not directly replaced departed veterans Artie Burns and Sean Davis.

A popular choice to make the team was undrafted slot corner Trajan Bandy, who ended up on the Steelers practice squad. The cornerback that came out of nowhere to make the roster was Florida Atlantic alum James Pierre. A near afterthought even after the Steelers signed him, Pierre showed up on the pool report every day against guys like James Washington and Chase Claypool. Pierre made plays on them, too. It was a healthy competition.

So, now that Pierre is on the roster, what are the Steelers really getting in this guy? Most importantly, what does his future outlook look like since he is likely buried on the bench?

Pierre’s Upside

Pierre mentioned in his press conference that he had one speed and that one speed was full speed. Pierre is 6-foot-2 and has great length. So, the physical fit is already rather striking right off the bat. Similar to Justin Layne, Pierre has the tools, and even though he bombed the combine, on tape, Pierre is a decent athlete. He is not a ‘wow’ player in terms of his athleticism, but it is sufficient, especially with how he plays the game.

The first thing that jumped out on his tape was his feistiness and willingness to do things that a lot of cornerbacks do not do: run support, tackling, and special teams. Pierre reaffirmed that, mentioning he wanted to help the Steelers anywhere they could, and it passes the eye test. Here on a cornerback blitz against Ohio State, Pierre is quite literally setting the edge on a read-option. That is a rare responsibility for a boundary corner, even one to the short side of the field. However, he does a fantastic job here to bring down Justin Fields with relative ease as well. Pierre can really tackle and is a physical player at the point of contact. It makes sense that the Steelers were drawn to Pierre for this reason. They expect their cornerbacks to be scrappy and help out in run defense and Pierre fits the bill.

This is where his size and strength come into play. UCF plays with weird wide receiver splits and this X-receiver has almost no room to work with on the sideline. Even still, Pierre does a fantastic job of using his hands to direct this route and control it. Even as the receiver swipes overhead, watch out how that speed turn is by Pierre. If that is thrown out of that break, Pierre has a chance to intercept that pass as he is in the hip pocket. He does almost surrender a catch on the scramble drill, but the initial stab and punch to the outside shoulder to divert any momentum from the receiver is what Pierre’s game is all about.

There are some issues with Pierre’s game. This is honestly not a bad rep by Pierre under all circumstances. It’s fine, he gets his hand knocked down while he has inside leverage and gets behind by a slight step. However, Pierre recovers quite well with a by marking his hand on that inside shoulder and staying in phase. He is in a position to make a play on this ball, but it is all a timing issue. Pierre actually jumps too early, misses a play on the ball, and as such this is caught. It would be nice to see Pierre get his head around even though he is in recovery mode. That comes down to composure and ball skills, which are two things Pierre needs to improve on. He dropped a few interceptions at training camp as well.

However, this is what it comes back to right here. The feistiness, the grit, and the passion Pierre plays with. It is going to land in the good graces of Mike Tomlin and the Steelers staff as long as he can do things like this on special teams and in practice. Pierre blows up a tight end here to make the tackle. Not many cornerbacks play with that strength or physicality but he does.

Pierre’s Outlook With the Steelers

It is a bit hard to frame what Pierre is going to be in his career. It all really comes back how he evolves in zone coverages and his composure in tough situations. There is a bit of a panic mechanic that Pierre induces when he gets beat off the line, even if he often recovers to be in a position to make the play. If he listens, learns, and works relentlessly to improve with these veterans in the room, however, Pierre has a chance to be a real gem of a find for the Steelers.

For right now, expect him to be a feisty special teamer that defines what it means to be a Steelers cornerback going back to the Steel Curtain days. The inconsistencies on the boundary will hopefully begin to work themselves out as he gets more and more coaching time with Teryl Austin and Tom Bradley.

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