PITTSBURGH — Make no mistake about it, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has not been good in the first two games of the 2023 season.
Pickett followed up an atrocious Week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers with something that represented only slight improvement against the Cleveland Browns on Monday night. Pickett completed 50% of his passes, and his 71.8 passer rating, if he managed it for the entire season, would have been dead last in the NFL last season among starters. Clearly, Pickett needs to be much, much better.
However, the matchup against the Cleveland Browns represents an opportunity for an interesting comparison. The Browns recently had a young former first-round draft pick at quarterback who did not ever live up to his draft status in Baker Mayfield. After several years of protecting Mayfield within the Cleveland offense, mostly getting by with the play of their offensive line and running game, the Browns decided to cut ties with Mayfield before the 2022 season.
They went out and traded three first-round picks for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson was a former star, but was coming off an extended absence due to sexual assault allegations. He was far from a sure thing when Cleveland paid an exorbitant price in both draft capital, and then his $230 million contract that is fully guaranteed.
After watching the quarterback play on Monday night, the Browns have to be rethinking that decision.
While Pickett has struggled and scuffled as a young quarterback, Watson is the highest-paid player in the league in terms of guaranteed money. He should be expected to be the reason the Browns are winning games, and not just a passenger in an offense. Instead, Watson was probably the largest single reason that Cleveland lost the game. Of the Browns’ four turnovers, he was directly involved in three, fumbling twice and throwing an interception on the first play of the game. He also took two personal four penalties for facemasks and was near to being ejected from the game for contacting an official.
The Steelers won in spite of, not because of, Pickett’s play. But the Browns were not able to win in spite of Watson.
Meanwhile, Baker Mayfield has had a career resurgence with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. The Bucs are 2-0 and Mayfield has a 104.4 passer rating through two weeks.
If there’s one thing the Cleveland Browns have absolutely provided to the Steelers over the years, it’s a strong example of what not to do, and it seems that the Browns are continuing that to this day in terms of the quarterback position. They gave up on Mayfield after far longer than the Steelers have been playing Pickett, and again, Pickett was not good enough, and must be better in order for the Steelers to realize their goals as a team.
But like most things, patience seems to be the most prudent course.