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Steelers Analysis

Can Russell Wilson Keep Steelers Strong in Clutch Time?

Can new quarterback Russell Wilson keep up with what Kenny Pickett did in the clutch for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023?



Pittsburgh Steelers QB Russell Wilson
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson during OTAs on May 21, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

You can surely remember the memes. Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers offense would be struggling through three quarters of football, when the sides would change for the final period and “Fourth Quarter Kenny” would come out of his shell and lead the team to an improbably if ungainly victory.

Not much went well for the Steelers at the quarterback position in 2023. Pickett was mediocre before he was injured, backup Mitch Trubisky was atrocious and midnight hit hard in the postseason for Cinderella third-stringer Mason Rudolph, but there was one area of quarterback play that the Steelers excelled at in 2023 — the fourth quarter.

After jettisoning their three quarterbacks from last season, the Steelers have revamped their quarterback room with Russell Wilson, Justin Fields and Kyle Allen, with hope for much more success across the board.

But what about the one thing the Steelers were good at last year? 

Pickett finished last season 28th in completion percentage, 27th in passer rating, 28th in QBR and 27th in adjusted net yards per attempt. But despite starting only 12 games, he was tied for third in fourth quarter comebacks and sixth in game-winning drives. Rudolph also added one game-winning drive in his three starts, giving the Steelers quite an advantage in close games in the fourth quarter. 

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett throws on the run against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 12, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

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Half of the team’s 10 wins came via the result of a late winning drive, and though there are hopes for the Steelers offense to be more productive overall in 2024, a team that relies primarily on defense and the running game should still expect to be in a number of tightly contested games.

But if Wilson wins the Steelers starting quarterback job, there’s no reason to fear. Wilson was one of the three players that had more combined fourth quarter comebacks and game winning drives than Pickett did last season, notching four of each. More than half of the games Wilson won with the Broncos last season were by late game-winning drive. Furthermore, Wilson has a career 102.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter of games in his career, compared to a 79.3 for Pickett. So even though it was working with Pickett, the results that Wilson has posted might be more sustainable.

On the other hand, the fourth quarter might be the biggest bugaboo for Fields. He had just one fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive in 2023, and only had five combined over three seasons as the Chicago Bears starting quarterback.

While Pickett and Wilson get better late, Fields has a 61.3 career passer rating in the fourth quarter, not only the worst of the three but by far the worst of his situational splits. When trailing with four minutes to play or less, Fields has a career 41.1 career passer rating.

So the Steelers should still be able to rely on fourth quarter magic if Wilson is the team’s starter, but if Fields wins the training camp battle, the offense had better find a way to build the team some leads through 45 minutes of play.