PITTSBURGH — George Pickens and his lack of targets continue to be a hot topic among the Steelers fanbase and media, as many wonder why the rookie receiver who makes highlight reel plays week in and week out can’t get the ball more.
That only became intensified after Pickens had an outburst on the sideline in Atlanta, demanding the football. Some former Steelers have even said that they think Pickens is being held back by the offense intentionally.
Well, there are two people who will direct enough influence to truly change it. One, there is Kenny Pickett, but as a rookie quarterback, his focus should probably just be on playing the game and not worrying about which receiver is getting the ball the most. Secondly, there is offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who can scheme up plays to Pickens.
However, he has to do that with Pickett’s comfort in mind. And largely, teams have adjusted their coverages to take away Pickens to a large extent. But the point that Canada makes is not just tied to Pickens, but to when any single receiver on the team receives fewer targets. Canada made the point when explaining the lack of usage for Pat Freiermuth in their win over Carolina.
“Getting guys like Pat is a priority, just like I said a few weeks ago with (Diontae Johnson), he’s getting some,” Canada said. “I think that’s what happens, defenses make a decision on what they’re gonna do, and our quarterback’s job is to find the guy that is open. In that sense, we’re looking for the right matchup.”
Johnson received ten targets on Sunday working against backup cornerback Keith Taylor. In the last three games, George Pickens only has six receptions, but did receive five targets on Sunday. That was likely due to the coverage Carolina played allowing him to get open. As Canada explained it, with Pickett’s reads, he is supposed to find the guy that is truly open, even if Pickens makes freak-show-like contested catches. If Pickens wants to gain more targets than he will have a week in and a week out, he either has to get more open naturally, or teams have to start playing someone else harder.
“Listen, the coverage dictates where the ball should go,” Canada said. “We can’t just say ‘We’re going to throw the ball there no matter what,’ because we’re not going to do that. If they want to stop the run and run everybody up, that will change that. The ball found (Johnson) and we got into a rhythm there. We can run different routes in Johnson’s tree and do different things for different guys. it could happen again for him, or it could be someone else. Our identity has to be, if they take him away, then Pat or George will get it. Those three make us multidimensional.”
Defenses respect the standout rookie, and that has hurt his ability to get consistent targets. Jaycee Horn covered Pickens for most of the game on Sunday, and it showed. Meanwhile, Johnson won against everyone else he faced from the outset. Could this be the week where teams shift back to guarding Johnson or Freiermuth harder to open things up to Pickens? It depends, but if they do, his targets should go up even more.