By Matthew Marczi
Following the loss to the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke to the media the following Tuesday, as he always does, to address a range of topics. One of the topics that he discussed was tight end David Johnson.
Tomlin noted that he liked what Johnson was doing in both the running game and the passing game, and noted that he saw “dramatic improvement in him physically week-to-week”. He added that he expected to see “continued improvement in what he’s doing both physically and mentally”. That improvement continued into the following game against the Minnesota Vikings.
When speaking about Johnson, it is important to keep in mind that he is not simply coming off an ACL tear—he is also coming off a year out of the game. Not only that, he was also being groomed for the fullback role before Will Johnson emerged. So to see the level of play that he showed at tight end this past game after everything that happened in the last year plus is really something to behold.
Now, surely that is not to say that Johnson will be pushing for Heath Miller’s job any time soon, but as the above play shows, he makes a good complementary piece. On this play, he motions to the left and lines up in the B Gap, taking on linebacker Chad Greenway. In fact, he really gets a beautiful shot on him here, and it is a shame that Emmanuel Sanders could not get to Harrison Smith in time before he blew up the play after a one-yard gain.
On this play, the Steelers run a balanced 12 personnel package with Miller on the left and Johnson on the right. Marcus Gilbert moves up to the second level to block Greenway while Johnson seals the defensive end to open the right side of the field for an easy six-yard gain. Erin Henderson does a good job of reading this play and using his athleticism to limit the damage.
Once upon a time, it used to be that when a running play failed, many fans would immediately point to Johnson as the most likely source of the failure. On this occasion, it was the combined failures of Miller, Ramon Foster, and Fernando Velasco that waste a perfectly good block by Johnson (on the other hand, Mike Adams does a good job here).
On this play, the Steelers run an imbalanced 12 package with Miller and Johnson both lined up next to Adams on the left side—as is Jerricho Cotchery. Johnson is lined up across from Jared Allen, and he uses the defensive end’s own momentum to push him to the ground.
Johnson and Miller are both improving health-wise and performance-wise on a weekly basis. Maybe the offensive lineman can take some blocking cues by sitting in on a tight end meeting.