Pickett looks forward to return of Johnson

The Steelers made it into their bye in 2023 in much better shape than they were at the bye in 2022.

In fact, despite their bye coming after five weeks instead of eight as it did in 2022, at 3-2, the Steelers have already won one more game than they did before the bye a year ago, when they stumbled out of the gate at 2-6.

And now, help is on the way.

Wide receiver Diontae Johnson, out since suffering a hamstring injury in the team's season-opening 30-7 loss to the 49ers, is expected to return from injured reserve when the Steelers take the field again in Week 7 at Los Angeles against the Rams, giving the offense a boost.

"He's a really talented guy," quarterback Kenny Pickett said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "We miss him a lot. He helps move the chains. He gets great separation. He's been a great teammate and leader in that room as well and helping guys out. So, getting him back is going to be massive for our offense."

Johnson has led the Steelers in receptions in each of the past three seasons, including 86 in 2022.

And not only were the Steelers missing Johnson in last week's 17-10 victory over the Ravens, tight end Pat Freiermuth also was out with a hamstring injury. Freiermuth was second to Johnson last season with 63 receptions.

Getting Johnson back in the lineup should help create room for everyone else to flourish due to the attention he receives from opposing defenses.

With Johnson out of the lineup, second-year receiver George Pickens has seen more double teams. And Pickett also has been missing a key third-down target. Johnson had 18 receptions on third down last season, with 16 of them producing first downs.

"I think just by watching this, you can see that we've missed him," Pickett said. "I think it'll help George out. It'll help Alan and cow and kind of those guys have been really working hard and playing a lot of snaps. So I think it'll be great for us as a whole."

The Steelers could use that boost.

They're averaging just 15.8 points per game thus far this season. But that's not all that different than where they were at the bye a year ago. Prior to their bye in 2022, they averaged 15 points per game. After the bye, that rose to 20.9 points per game.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

The Steelers took a step back and looked at what they were doing and how they were doing it and made adjustments in 2022. Pickett expects more of the same this year.

"It's just look at what we're doing well and continue to do those things," Pickett said. "There's going to always be things that we could take out or add, tune up some certain things that we're not doing well. I think there's different ways to attack it. 

"I think we did a really good job of getting started on it. You know, guys came in with a great attitude. So, we're looking forward to getting healthy and continuing that."