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Kenny Pickett, Steelers Snowballing Into Odd Dilemma



Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Kenny Pickett doesn’t make sense. No, really. Nothing about his 2023 season matches his past performance. Somehow, Pickett has turned into a wildly inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate quarterback in the short area of the field. His fourth-quarter legend grows by the week. Whether it’s him, Matt Canada, or both, they will not attack the middle of the field. Oh, and he does not throw interceptions.

Pickett owns the longest streak without an interception in the NFL at 147 passing attempts. He has not thrown an interception since October 1 against the Houston Texans. And in that time frame, Pittsburgh lost just one game to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The stat lines are ugly and borderline deceitful at times because there have been plays that maybe should have gone the other way, but Pickett, so far, is doing a great job of not putting the ball in harm’s way.

The Steelers are seeing a lot of two-high looks, even though they are running the ball well. Green Bay responded to their dominant rushing attack by starting to creep a safety down and go into Cover 3 looks, but mostly, teams are clouding over the top of both sides and forcing balls to the sideline.

Steelers QB Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 2, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

“We had opportunities, we just didn’t connect on them,” Pickett said. “Had a back shoulder to George, which was a really good play for us, just wish we had some more opportunities to do so, but we got the win, that’s the most important thing.”

Can Steelers Feel Comfortable?

The odd problem about Kenny Pickett is that it is hard for the Steelers to feel comfortable with what they see from him. Aside from his lack of turnovers, teams have removed George Pickens from the game plan. Even recently, there has been a lack of juice throughout the offense to create anything in the passing game. Even after Pittsburgh scampered out to a quick 17-7 lead on its running game, the passing game never got going. And that was against a Packers team without Jaire Alexander.

“The run game was doing their thing,” receiver Diontae Johnson said. “We just kept feeding Najee and Jaylen the ball. Once we had a little thing they were off playing zone, we just kinda took little out route and stuff like that — taking what they were giving us. They were making us go outside.”

Some of that comes back to Pickett. But how much of it is on him versus the scheme? Generally, when this question comes up, it’s usually a bit of both. However, the Steelers will not win many games against upper-echelon teams without an average passing attack. It seems the running game has found its footing. If the passing game can even take a small step forward, and it’s not crazy to think it might, this offense might be a decent group.

But that falls on the back of Pickett. His 2023 is a jumbled mess of clutch play, one massively good stat, and many concerning signs. Canada muddies the evaluation process because the passing game concepts are so baffling sometimes. But Pickett has struggled and misses a lot of schemed stuff, too. There is an argument to be made that Sunday was one of his worst games of the entire season. Add in a catch that Johnson probably should have made in the fourth quarter, and you have summed up Pickett’s struggles.

But the bottom line? Without a passing offense operating at something approaching league-average efficiency, without Pickens and Johnson being consistently open and having the offense execute through them, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers being better than they are. They have to get to the level they were at by the end of the last year. If they do that? They can beat many teams, even good ones, with a more consistent winning style.

Pickett, who the team invested a first-round pick in a year ago. He can be better. He has been better in fits and spurts — mainly in the fourth quarter while training. That’s a great time to play your best ball, but it can’t be the only time a team can rely on its passing offense.