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'Overthinking about catching the ball' is plaguing Diontae Johnson as Pittsburgh Steelers struggle

PITTSBURGH -- Diontae Johnson knows his job is simple enough: catch the football and make plays.

But recently, he's been unable to fulfill his duties as one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' top offensive weapons because before he's able to make a play, the football lands on the ground.

The second-year wide receiver leads the league with 11 drops, including two in the Steelers' loss to the Buffalo Bills and three in the loss to the Washington Football Team. It's a trend Johnson hopes to correct Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"It has to do with a little bit of overthinking," Johnson said Saturday, explaining the cause of his drops. "Overthinking about catching the ball. Once you get those drops, you kind of get it in the back of your head like, 'catch it, catch it, catch it.' It's all you really think about. When you see the ball coming your way and you are thinking about it in the back of your mind, you are just like, 'ugh.' You don't want to try and shy away from it. I have been dropping the ball, but I don't let that define me as a person and as a player.

"I know what I am capable of doing. I showed that earlier in the season up until this point. I keep a mindset, that next play mentality, and when the ball comes my way try to make a play."

Johnson isn't the only Steeler unable to hold on to the ball. As a team, the Steelers lead the NFL in total drops (33) and drop rate (6.3%). The Steelers have recorded 14 of those drops in the past three games, a stretch during which the team's drop rate was 9.9%.

"It's just been a lack of focus," Johnson said. "We know what we're supposed to do when we catch the ball. ... We try not to think about that too much because if you think about it, it's going to show in your play. We're just trying to go far by making plays each and every snap, just locking in a little more than what you normally would do. Whether you know it or not, those moments that you lock in like that are real special."

Ahead of last week's game in Buffalo, coach Mike Tomlin vowed any player who made a habit of dropping the ball would be replaced by one who could hang on to the ball. He made good on that promise after Johnson recorded drops on back-to-back series to open the first half against the Bills.

"I really didn't have a clue," Johnson said of his benching. "When I dropped the first one, I thought I have to make a play, try to do something. When I dropped the second one, I had it, tucked it and it slipped out of my hands. After that he pulled me. I was a little upset. At the end of the day I have to catch the ball, plain and simple."

Johnson didn't pout on the sideline. A pep talk from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just before halftime put him back on track.

"It showed that he cares about me," Johnson said. "Some players wouldn't do that. ... For him to come up to me and give me some motivational speech to get my mind back right, it felt good to me. It got me going. He was telling me to keep my head up and asking me if I really wanted to play. I answered yes, I really want to play and help this team win. Halftime came, I went out there warm and I came back and went out there and made plays I knew I was supposed to make whenever the ball came to me at any time.

"I felt like I got back to myself as the ball was coming my way more."