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George Pickens is Right About Flawed Steelers Offense



Steelers WR George Pickens
Steelers WR George Pickens against the Cleveland Browns, Nov. 19, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The week’s topic (other than the Steelers way) has become George Pickens and his attitude. That fire was reignited when Mike Tomlin went at his frustrations because they were not solution-oriented. For the first time, Tomlin acknowledged that there are ills to Pickens’s passion.

“It’s a problem because it’s not solution-oriented,” Tomlin said. “You know, we’re all frustrated, but we got to manage our frustrations in a professional and mature way. And when it’s not done that way, it’s not necessarily pushing us toward solutions…

“We care a lot. We put a lot into it. And so, frustration is a natural human response. But I’m also completely comfortable asking these guys to do unnatural things, because they’re professional athletes. Man, that’s our job to do the unique things and make it look regular. To make it look ordinary.”

Steelers WR George Pickens

Steelers WR George Pickens warms up before their game against the New England Patriots, Dec. 7, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Alan Saunders did a great job breaking down this issue from the team’s side. I won’t mince the words there. You love George Pickens’s passion, but he has to manage these emotions better and channel them into solutions. I think one of those solutions is better communication. Guys have learned how to communicate from the time since they came into the league. Allen Robinson recalls when he would lash out as a young player, but he knew how to channel that into productive conversations.

“I used to be like that at some point,” Robinson said with a slight chuckle. “He’s a young player learning how to become a professional. One thing I always emphasize with these guys is to just talk. Guys don’t know what you’re thinking or saying without talking. He’s open to learning all about that stuff. George is a young guy who has frustrations he is dealing with, but that communication is so important to fix issues.”

That is just the glaze on top to say that Pickens’ frustrations are there, but he has to channel them somehow into productive conversations. On Thursday, Pickens gave an admission into his struggles and frustrations that seemed to paint a clear picture. He’s a talented receiver who believes the team is better when he gets the ball more and produces. He’s not wrong about that. Not only that, he hates losing and has not dealt with that much.

Steelers WR George Pickens

Steelers WR George Pickens at practice on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

So, let’s get this out of the way — the problems with Pickens are nonproductive outbursts that only cause stress rather than communicating about solutions. He has to work to improve that part of his psyche on the field to maximize what he can do to help fix his situation.

But some things are above his head. For one, the team’s primary route concepts often consist of seven-yard or shorter routes meant to stay ahead of the chains. They do not look for explosive plays consistently. In addition, routes are often mirrored on each side, meaning if one side runs a curl and a flat, the other does the same thing. Pickens aimed at that on Thursday.

“I don’t know. You guys be at practice, right? I would just say I hope to see things like that. When it’s routes like that, I mean, I can’t really produce that way, running 5-yard routes, 3-yard routes,” Pickens said.

When you look at the root of his frustration — he’s right. There are some things that Pickens can not fix. A coaching staff that will not tailor his route tree to his strengths is that. Pickens is a build-up speed player. Naturally, you would want him on the move on drags, digs, and other routes. That’s where his YAC ability is at its best. This guy is not Deebo Samuel. He can shake and bake in the open field to make one guy miss, but he will not stop, start, and shed tackles like a running back because of his unique build. Do you want a prime illustration on how to maximize YAC with Pickens? Check out his touchdown in the first game against the Browns.

They got him on the move on a dig route off play action, which he house called. That’s how he wins. More importantly, we discuss a guy who wins down the field. Crossers, posts, post-corners, corners, go routes, digs, slants are even routes that Pickens routinely wins on. Yet, quarterbacks either do not pull the trigger when he is open or on the backside of the progression and third or fourth in the read.

This is where I say improving his communication skills can help. If you see an advantageous look that will allow him to exploit the middle of the field on a crosser, for example, talking with the quarterback about that can alert you as the primary read.

But right now, this team is misusing Pickens. By the way, he’s not the only player to express frustrations like this at some point this year. And if you look at the tape, he is also not the only player being missed (hi, Pat Freiermuth). The team’s evaluation of his personnel is odd. But they are putting Pickens is an odd position. Static, short routes are the opposite of what a guy like him should be doing. Sure, he can do some of it. But when he sees his stat line as five receptions for 19 yards, and the production all came on routes close to the line of scrimmage or even behind it, it’s not hard to see why he is frustrated.

The offensive scheme is bad. This team’s evaluation of how to use a guy like Pickens is misguided right now. He can separate on those routes mentioned above. How he wins after the catch is on the move using his speed, not as a stop-and-start player on those short routes. While Pickens has some maturing to do in the context of an NFL locker room, please make no mistake that his frustrations are genuine and correct.