Berger: Poor OL Play Not Reason to Hold Back Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has been the talk of the preseason, and understandably so.
Through his first two preseason games, Pickett has completed 19 of 22 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His passer rating, 138.6, is the highest by a rookie in the preseason since 2015.
Not bad, Kenny. Not bad at all.
Kenny’s stellar play has Pittsburgh wondering if the team should stick with their original plan of beginning the season with veteran Mitch Trubisky or simply play the kid.
I entertained the idea on my radio show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday afternoon. If all things are equal, should the Steelers simply start Pickett and begin a new era with the player they plan to be their next franchise quarterback anyway?
There was a mixed bag of responses from callers, but one warning kept being recited by Steelers fans.
“Don’t throw Kenny to the wolves if you don’t have too,” many said. “They shouldn’t throw him into the fire too early, there’s no need.”
Steelers fans want what is best for Pickett, and I commend them for that. Not only do they root for him to succeed because he is somewhat of a hometown hero given his alma mater, but success for Pickett means success for the team as well.
While horror stories of rookie quarterbacks being “thrown to the wolves” elsewhere may justify their anxieties, Pickett is in a different situation than many of those past instances.
Pickett’s situation is not comparable to David Carr on the expansion Houston Texans in 2002, Sam Darnold on abysmal New York Jets team in 2018 or any example in a long lineage of Cleveland Browns failures.
The Steelers are not some bottom feeder that finished 2-15 last season and had a top five pick. They went to the postseason and selected Pickett 20th-overall.
Offensively, Pickett will have one of the best supporting casts at his disposal that we have seen for a rookie in quite some time. Najee Harris. Diontae Johnson. George Pickens. Pat Freiermuth. Need I say more?
While I’ll concede the offensive line is still a significant work in progress, Pickett has played two preseason games behind the unit and it hasn’t fazed him yet. Not only has he demonstrated poise and a willingness to stand in the face of pressure to make the tough throw, but Pickett’s athleticism will serve him well too.
The unit has improved its run blocking from a season ago. We all know a capable run game is a young quarterback’s best friend.
Defensively, the Steelers are expected to have one of the top units in the entire league. In addition to the reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh has two more elite players at their position in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Heyward. Just like a reliable run game, a stout defense is also the perfect assist for a rookie signal caller.
Pickett has luxuries few other young quarterbacks in his situation do. Therefore, I struggle to agree with the cautionary tale so many fans are repeating.
Lesser franchises have certainly made mistakes, but these are the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offense is littered with former and future Pro Bowlers, while the defense boasts multiple All Pros. The entire operation is run by a consensus top five head coach in Mike Tomlin.
Pickett can’t be “thrown to the wolves” if he has a pack of his own.
The Steelers anointed Pickett the successor to Ben Roethlisberger when they selected him in the first round of April’s draft.
He was the pro-ready quarterback entering the 2022 NFL Draft, and has justified that label with his play over the team’s first two preseason exhibitions.
Why waste time and delay the inevitable by starting Trubisky when the heir to the franchise is performing the way he has?
Pickett has played his way into this moment. Let’s give him the keys and have some fun.