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Steelers Analysis

Alien Alert: How the Steelers Can Unleash George Pickens vs. 49ers



Steelers, Kenny Pickett, George Pickens
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) talk on the field during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

The Steelers do not have to offer much imagination to what George Pickens can do on the football field. He is a viral highlight machine, and Pickens has earned his reputation as one of the best jump ball receivers in the NFL already. Just ask Kenny Pickett about how much he trusts what Pickens can do.

“I’m going to put it in his zip code,” Pickett said. “That’s kind of been the MO here since I’ve started. So, he’s an unbelievable player, just continue to put the ball going his way and let him do the rest with it.”

Earlier in the week, George Pickens made another one-handed catch in practice. But that’s just who he is at this point. He thinks he is the best receiver in the NFL, and most would tell you he is on the precipice of becoming a superstar. In the preseason, Pickens looked as dominant as he did in training camp.

But 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward offers a challenging task for Pickens in his game. Ward is lengthy, physical, and will get all up in Pickens’ grill. That is something that Pickens doesn’t experience all that often. So, this game is a fascinating test for how far Pickens has grown. But there is one easy way to maintain Pickens’ aura in this game. First, let’s break down a key stat.

When targeting the 49ers within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, there was not a defense better in the NFL last year in terms of EPA per attempt. However, their efficiency fell to 31st when the ball got pushed down the field past 15 yards. In other words, the bat signal just went out for George Pickens. Despite likely drawing Ward, Pickens has been the explosive play element of the Steelers’ offense that they have missed for so long.

The deep ball will matter, and the Steelers need to give Kenny Pickett time to push the ball down the field to Pickens. But the rule of thumb for Matt Canada should be easy. Once a quarter, whenever that is, Pickens needs a target. This is the matchup to let Pickens go up and make those plays. They need explosive plays, and the 49ers will almost certainly put up some points in this game. Pittsburgh will have to match them. Pickett knows that defenses will focus on Pickens, which could cause him to go elsewhere with the ball.

It helps everybody as a whole. Run, pass, you name it. We want to have guys on both sides of the ball that defenses are worried about. Someone will be singled up somewhere, and you know, it’s my job to find them,” Pickett said

While the fade and jump balls are something I am generally against en masse, Pickens changes that dynamic. His ball skills and body control are elite. It changes the math on how likely those plays are to work naturally. So, I would give Pickens at least four chances in this game. It’s a great way to get Pickett an outlet to make sure that Pickens has an opportunity to make those plays. It is a calculated, aggressive move that, throughout Pickens’ career, has proven successful far too often not to try it.

So, maybe give Pickens those chances to make those explosive plays. It seems that the Steelers will be committed to doing just that. And letting Pickens do what he does best, even against a guy like Ward, bodes well for an overall tick into the gameplan this week.

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