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Where Have Diontae Johnson’s Targets Gone?

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Steelers WR Diontae Johnson

When one receiver gets added attention from the defense, it creates chances for others to shine in the passing attack. Diontae Johnson is being keyed on by opponents, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday afternoon, and rookie George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth are profiting.

“Diontae is a known commodity within the group, so people are going to have an agenda to minimize his impact on the game, particularly in significant moments — possession down, red zone football,” Tomlin said. “When you’ve got a guy that’s been a Pro Bowler and, really, he’s kind of the only one — and you’ve got a young group — that’s a component of it.”

Following a career year in which he snagged eight scores in 2021, Johnson doesn’t yet have a receiving touchdown this go-round. He was targeted five times against Cincinnati Sunday evening, catching four passes for only 21 yards.

Meanwhile, Pickens also reeled in four footballs, for 83 yards and his second touchdown grab of the campaign. Freiermuth was targeted a dozen times, finishing with eight catches and 79 yards.

“So, how do you open up opportunities for a guy like that?” Tomlin asked rhetorically. “Other guys make plays. Pickens had a nice game. Freiermuth had a nice game. Those things create opportunities and balance within your attack.”

Johnson was targeted over 10 times per game a season ago. Through the initial 10 games on this schedule, that average has dipped, with 8.6 balls being thrown his way each outing.

Despite the relative lack of looks, Johnson ranks second in receiving in the Steelers offense with 456 yards on the season. His 51 catches are the most on the team. Sure, he’d like to be a larger part of what’s going on, but is aware of the situation.

“He’s a professional,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, there’s frustrations. He wants to be a component of why we win — and a significant component … He understands the dynamics of team play and what has to transpire for him to get opportunities. As a young guy, he’s been a beneficiary of that in the past as people have focused their energy on other known guys.”

Johnson went for 1,161 yards last season. He was targeted 169 times and had 107 catches. All were career highs.

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