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Here’s How to Evaluate Kenny Pickett’s Poor Performance vs. 49ers



Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett Sept 10, 2023 Steelers v 49ers at Acrisure Stadium -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

It’s not time to panic about Kenny Pickett. Yes, the Steelers’ second-year quarterback had one of his worst NFL games against the 49ers, which is cause for concern. There are no numbers that I will spit out in this article to make you feel better about that performance. The film is as bad as you thought it was on first watch. Pickett had an abysmal performance and sunk the Steelers.

As much as I thought Matt Canada and the offensive line struggled, Pickett is the main reason the offense scored only seven points on Sunday. If he plays to the level he should have played, the Steelers could have easily put up more than 20 points. The opportunities to capitalize were there, but Pickett had no clue what to do with any open play he got. Take it from Pickett on how much the game got away from him.

“I think we held up great,” Pickett said. “Obviously, they’re going to get some pass rush on me here and there, but I thought the guys protected really well and they were asked to do it a lot. Need to help them out, get the ball out fast. Guys need to get open fast and got to improve.”

Most of that onus is getting placed upon himself. For Kenny Pickett, that all makes sense. Nothing he did went to plan. Pickett’s decision-making, process, pocket presence, and accuracy were all a disaster. But maybe that is where the optimism comes in from this game.

Steelers Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett against the San Francisco 49ers, Sept. 10, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

That’s a paradox. Everything Kenny Pickett did was so wrong that maybe it was a good thing. Really? I’m not sure I would take those bounds that far, but Pickett has never looked worse this year. From the start of OTAs to now, I mean that Sunday is the worst I have seen Pickett play. You can throw this game up there with the worst performances of his career, if not the worst. This one is the worst since his regression from everything he showed this summer disappeared.

But I have watched Pickett play football since 2017. I saw all of his games while he played at Pitt. For my money, Sunday is the worst game Pickett has played overall since the 2018 ACC Championship against Clemson. In that game, this same thing happened. The entire chain broke down, and Pickett looked lost while under duress. In that game, he threw for eight yards while throwing the football all over the place.

Never was I more shocked at a player’s performance on a beat that I covered than I was on Sunday by Pickett. We are talking about the guy who, on average, threw the 2nd most catchable ball in the NFL last year, according to PlayerProfiler. His deadeye accuracy is not something that I consider a strength, but he is generally accurate. There were no signs of that on Sunday. Pickett’s misfire to Diontae Johnson on the slant late in the 2nd quarter is symbolic of that fact. Pickett collapsed within himself.

I have a treasure trove of games to prove that Sunday is not who Pickett is as a quarterback or at this level. He struggled at times last year, but never this bad. Quarterback play in Week 1 was just about universally terrible. There are some outliers (hi, Brock Purdy), but most of these quarterbacks did lay an egg.

Pickett belongs in that category unless this starts to become a pattern. Now, some other traits, such as his pocket presence and some of those misses with his processing, two authentic questions from his tape last year, are critical traits to watch over the season. But the complete lack of accuracy with no regard for decision-making generally is not a trait that Pickett brought to the table last year.

When even his creativity outside the pocket did not work, you knew something was severely off for Pickett on the day. Kenny Pickett does deserve a mea culpa for the performance. He can not build upon this game with the similar patterns that make him regress from the growth he seemed to show this summer and toward the end of last season.

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