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Mike Tomlin Tells the Hard Truth about George Pickens’ Attitude



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

After a tumultuous week where George Pickens was at the front of the media headlines again, Mike Tomlin sat him down for a private meeting to discuss handling his emotions. In his weekly chat with Bob Labriola, Tomlin disclosed that he sat down with Pickens to discuss how to vent those emotions better to his teammates in productive settings.

“Education. He and I had a great meeting this week. We were just talking about the New England agenda. I’m familiar with the agenda because I’ve just been a component of it in the past,” Tomlin said. “When you have a dynamic player, oftentimes from a game playing perspective, you’ll pick a block of time or block of plays where you’re just going to deny that guy the ball and make others beat you. And the agenda is to keep the ball out of the hands of a significant player, but also if it’s a significant player it’s to create angst within him and within that unit. The quarterback feels pressure to get him the ball and have him included. The player feels pressure because he wants his talents to be a part of moving the football.”

Steelers WR George Pickens

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

Pickens is frustrated, with good reason. He has not scored a touchdown since October against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the leading receiver for the Steelers is averaging just five targets per game over the last six games. Some of those targets count screens and other short passes. But that might be precisely why Pickens is not producing.

Pickens has struggled to continue putting up big stat lines. But running curls and hitches is not necessarily conducive to what he wants to do as a player. He views the scheme, in that manner, as a significant hindrance to what he does on the field. That is where a big portion of his frustration stems from overall. George Pickens is talented, but Tomlin wants to know Pickens can not take himself out of the game.

“Certainly it’s easy to say, “Be mature. Don’t get frustrated. It’s part of the game.” But he needs to understand it is an agenda. It is a game plan. It is something that’s constructed to break him and the unit down. And that’s why it’s so important that he manages the frustration component of it,” Tomlin said.

“(Antonio Brown) saw a lot of it. I used to say to AB, “Man, the second quarter is a big quarter.” Because in the first quarter of the game, people are not going to allow him, a known entity, to be significant. It’s a tactic that’s often employed when you’re talking about significant players, or guys with unique talent in one-on-one circumstances. You can do that for a block of time, but it is very difficult to keep it up over the course of 60 minutes. And that’s the educational component that you talk to a player about. You let frustration win, then you’re not there for the final 15 minutes that might be the significant ones where you catch 3 for 90 yards and a touchdown. And so it’s an education component to it as well.”

But George Pickens, like any wide receiver, wants the ball and targets mainly because he sees it as a boost to the team. He is not wrong, either. When Pickens is cooking, the Steelers generally work as a team at a much higher level than they have otherwise. But what he can not allow to happen is the emotions taking himself out of the game for other teams.

Pickens is not even the only frustrated player in the locker room. Diontae Johnson has been blasted for a lack of effort, voiced his frustrations, and has generally done similar things to Pickens.

However, he has to find a way to channel those frustrations into productive conversations. That will ultimately get him the football rather than the fruitless methods he employs right now. And more importantly, the team has to scheme up better ways to get him the ball.