Flavell's Five Thoughts: Diontae Johnson Drawing Comparisons to You Know Who

Is the next great Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver playing like the last one?
Author:
Publish date:

When they needed to, the Pittsburgh Steelers took care of business. To reach 10-0 for the first time in franchise history, all the Steelers had to do was beat the awful Jacksonville Jaguars to do it. While they started out slow, as has been the case in seemingly every game this season, they took control well before halftime and didn't relinquish.

Now, not only are the Steelers 10-0, but they will be nationally televised following your Thanksgiving dinner. They head into a matchup with the Baltimore Ravens that seemed destined to determine the division when their schedule was released. Now, the Steelers have the ability to dampen Baltimore's playoff hopes even further.

The Steelers could've easily overlooked Jacksonville and been in grave danger Sunday. Instead, they won handily and now can prepare for a slugfest with the Ravens.

As always, there is a lot to unpack. Let's get down to it.

The Steelers took care of their business

The classic trap game presented itself for the Steelers. After two games against bad teams in Dallas and Cincinnati, the Steelers handled Jacksonville exactly as they needed to. While they went down 3-0 early, Pittsburgh's 27 unanswered points gave them the blowout victory over a team that was a big underdog.

Looking ahead to Baltimore would've been really easy. It's not like we haven't seen the Steelers overlook bad opponents before. Sunday that didn't happen. Despite going down 3-0 early after Jacksonville moved the ball really quickly, there was never another point that the Steelers seemed to be in trouble.

James Conner ran with a purpose, something I'll get into more here shortly. Ben Roethlisberger did his usual leading the team forward. Defensively, Pittsburgh tortured a poor young rookie quarterback. Everything a Steelers fan could've hoped for happened and more. Good on them.

Conner proved he isn't the problem

Personally, I still think the deterioration of the offensive line has caused the run game to decline. James Conner hasn't been great, but he has had himself a few solid games. Sunday, Conner posted 99 yards from scrimmage and had a few long runs that showed he can be successful when healthy.

Conner is the bell cow running back. When looking at the production of others from the position, nothing compares to that of Conner. Even behind bad offensive lines, good running backs will make due with what they've got based on their talent.

Benny Snell was given seven carries on Sunday for a total of 15 yards. If Snell wants a chance to be the guy next season if Conner leaves, those numbers won't quite get you there. Anthony McFarland Jr. has been underwhelming as well. He's broken off a couple of bigger runs but hasn't been consistent enough with his limited touches to inspire much confidence in him, either. Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds are warm bodies.

I don't see the running game improving much over the rest of the season. Conner will have a few good games and a handful of underwhelming ones. When the Steelers get to the postseason, Conner's best will be needed.

He doesn't need to post 100-yard games every week. However, averaging close to four yards per carry with whatever touches he does get would make the Steelers' run game respectable enough for playoff-caliber teams not to overlook that aspect of their game.

Secondary punishes Luton, leaves confidence

The Steelers intercepted Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton four times on Sunday. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds both intercepted Luton twice.

Fitzpatrick was able to scoop the ball off the turf on one occasion when Luton badly missed his target. Fitzpatrick's other pick came on a ball tipped in the red zone by Tyson Alualu. Fitzpatrick's nose for the ball has led to nine interceptions by him since the beginning of 2019. He's one of the biggest playmakers in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball.

Edmunds having two interceptions all but guaranteed a Steelers win. Edmunds isn't the most apt at making plays on the football. Doing it twice in one game surprised everyone.

Luton played one of the worst games against the Steelers defense this season. He finished 16-of-37 for 151 yards and four interceptions. He was flat out awful in this contest. After seeing Garrett Gilbert and rookie Joe Burrow, the Steelers took on another rookie in Luton. However, this one had nowhere near the pedigree of Burrow and played scared, knowing the Steelers defense was lurking.

Would Gardner Minshew have made any difference? Maybe a little. I don't know that Minshew is all that great of a quarterback, either. He's better than Luton for certain. The Steelers would have won either way. Minshew, however, might've given the Steelers that much more of a chance.

Diontae Johnson slowly becoming the team's No. 1 receiver

Heading into the season, many fantasy football pundits saw Diontae Johnson as a breakout candidate. He's done a good job of proving them right.

A small school product out of Toledo, Johnson is doing everything right and getting a lion's share of the targets from Roethlisberger.

Ever since Antonio Brown's departure, JuJu Smith-Schuster has been accepted as the Steelers' top guy. Maybe he is. But Johnson is cutting into the target share and continues to make plays every time Roethlisberger tosses the ball his way.

Roethlisberger threw to Johnson, who was tightly covered as he headed towards the end zone. Instead of giving up, Johnson fought through contact as the ball bobbled and caught it as he fell down at the one-yard line.

I can't help but say I see a lot of Antonio Brown in Johnson. No, I'm not saying he's going to be as productive and talented as Brown, but the parallels are too hard to ignore.

Johnson is a smaller, shifty receiver. He makes catches that make your jaw drop. On a weekly basis, he's earning more and more trust out of the team's elder statesman and franchise quarterback. He went to a small school, much like Brown and wasn't a day one draft pick.

With Smith-Schuster's departure becoming more and more likely following this season, Johnson is showing he can handle the workload of being the lead receiver in the offense.

On to Baltimore!

Is it just me, or doesn't this game feel anywhere near as important as it was supposed to?

The Ravens, fresh off a 14-2 season where Lamar Jackson ran away with the MVP, are now 6-4 teetering on the brink as their undefeated division rivals loom. While this game could dash whatever hopes the Ravens have left, it could also be a springboard for a team that seemed destined to make a Super Bowl run prior to the season.

That's why it's imperative the Steelers make sure to go into this game with the same intensity that they would otherwise.

8:20 on prime time following Thanksgiving dinner is the prime slot. Lots of people are going to watch football Thursday. But everyone will be watching arguably the best rivalry in football in prime time.

The Steelers are at home with their undefeated season on the line. The Ravens might've lost in demoralizing fashion on Sunday. But the motivation to ruin their biggest rivals' perfect season in front of the entire football world is more than enough motivation for them.

The Steelers better take them seriously. Containing Jackson won't be easy, especially without Devin Bush. But if they can force him to throw more often than not, he's prone to make mistakes without a shadow of a doubt.

Pittsburgh escaped injury troubles, it seems, with Smith-Schuster and cornerback Joe Haden. Continuing to stay healthy will be important.

While the quick turnaround won't be fun, they'll have an extended lay off following that game to rest up heading into the final five games of the season.

If they get by Baltimore and reach 11-0, finishing 16-0 becomes a real legitimate possibility looking at the end of their schedule. This one is big for a multitude of reasons.

Hopefully, the Turkey Day "Flavell's Five Thoughts" will be full of excitement and positivity with the hope that maybe the Steelers can complete the second 16-0 season in NFL history.

We'll see you Thursday.

Cody Flavell is a Contributor with AllSteelers. Follow Cody on Twitter @Cody_625, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.