PITTSBURGH — George Pickens is a pebble in Mike Tomlin’s shoe. Those are his exact words, not mine. But the metaphor broken out by Tomlin in his Tuesday press conference illustrates precisely how he thinks about this Pickens situation. For context, Pickens appeared frustrated during the team’s Thursday night win over the Titans.
He posted a story with a character who was frustrated with the words ‘Free Me’ under it. He appeared to be in a solemn mood all of Thursday night, with his body language on the sideline depicting just that. Not only did Pickens do that, but he unfollowed all offensive teammates aside from college teammate Broderick Jones and Mason Rudolph. The last move he would make was to scrub his entire page of Steelers-related posts.
However, he added all of those posts back to Instagram after archiving them. He then followed back all teammates, including Diontae Johnson. He is trying to convey here that there was nothing to be concerned about from the start and that the drama was all manufactured.
In an Instagram story on Saturday, Pickens posted a simple message to those concerned that he was fed up with the organization.
“Assumptions lol over a picture,” Pickens wrote. “That has nothing to do with FB (Football). Y’all need urgent care lol.”
That’s the summation of the situation and reading into it. Tomlin laughed all of this drama off, comparing it to ‘reality television.’ That is where he broke out his pebble metaphor, meaning it is a problem easily solvable rather than one he is perturbed about.
“Like breathing,” he said. “It’s easy. I know it’s a cute story for you guys, but it’s a pebble in my shoe, to be honest with you, in terms of the things I have to do to get these guys ready to play this week. Our focus is on the Green Bay Packers and what we all do in this football game. I can’t state it any plainer than that. It’s like reality television the way you guys follow social media and write stories about that.”
Teams seem comfortable in letting Diontae Johnson take short gains while keeping the big-play beast that is Pickens chained down. Of course, George Pickens should have had a touchdown against the Titans, but he took too big of a step and went out of bounds. Since Johnson returned to the lineup against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 7, Johnson has 29 targets and 20 catches. Pickens has 18 targets and just eight catches. So, George Pickens and his lack of productivity is a frustrating point.
“When you have a dynamic guy, he oftentimes dictates that it’s 2-on-1 football,” Tomlin said. “When he’s getting that type of attention, a guy like Diontae [Johnson] is going to have an opportunity to get volume catches. You’ll have an opportunity to have a light box in the run game so your run game can be effective.”
But does the frustration have a boiling point? Veteran Allen Robinson II is helping Pickens work through this frustration. Every single wide receiver deals with this at some point. Tomlin is not going to begrudge Pickens for wanting the football, and neither will his teammates. There are ways to express that, but at the root cause of it, Pickens knows he is a dynamic playmaker, and those types of guys help teams win football games.
“Heck yeah, he expresses frustration all the time,” Tomlin said. “He wants to be significant. He wants to be a reason why we’re successful. I don’t begrudge that. I want guys who want the football. I want guys who want to be a reason why we are successful. That’s a non-issue, to be quite honest with you.”
Pittsburgh will likely look to get Pickens involved more against a Packers secondary that is battered but finding some work with Jaire Alexander back and the young Carrington Valentine finding success against the Rams following the Rasul Douglas trade. Regardless, the frustrations with Pickens continue to come up, and he is learning to work through them.