CLEVELAND — It’s time to have an uncomfortable conversation. Kenny Pickett was drafted to Pittsburgh’s quarterback of the future, but so far, he has looked anything but that in 2023. The Steelers’ passing offense continues to be in disarray, and no fix is in sight. Changes have to be made to win more games, but the bigger storyline of this entire season was to evaluate just how good Pickett was at the NFL level.
The answer Pittsburgh has received so far? He’s not good enough. Before I dive into the whole soliloquy about Pickett, let me acknowledge his circumstances are not ideal. He has solid weapons around him, but they are highly volatile weapons. Diontae Johnson can be a Pro Bowler or unplayable. George Pickens is a great player. The two running backs, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, combine for a solid duo.
But Matt Canada falls short as an offensive coordinator. His route concepts make little sense and do not build off the team’s run game. He does not give his quarterback adequate answers to every coverage and look. Moreover, the utilization of specific personnel falls short. Canada has put the training wheels on Pickett in the last two weeks after his struggles, but you have to wonder if they are the correct set of wheels. Is sprint out right four times in a game something Pickett can build off throughout the game? Why are all the throws to get Pickett in a rhythm contested balls outside the numbers? The lack of free releases to create lay ups is cornering, although that has improved.
What else falls on coaching? The miscommunication aspect of the passing offense. Pittsburgh’s run game running inside zone, split zone, and duo when their athleticism plays to using run concepts in space throughout the first half of the season—other baffling uses of personnel that set them up to fail. The natural finer details of football are just missing from the offense. That’s coaching, and while the players have to execute, these are not players being set up well. So, that is a caveat you have to acknowledge with Pickett, but in any offensive scheme, there are baseline things you can look at.
So, to that degree, Kenny Pickett has an out, but there are concerning factors. Pickett’s games can not be classified as game manager types or mediocre. He has been terrible over the last three weeks. Pittsburgh has to get some level of even below-average production. The bar is in the ground right now. Pickett is missing the layups, spinning into pressure, missing reads, and looks out of it. This is a quarterback playing with very little confidence. He has no rhythm or anticipation to his game.
But where I raise the alarm bells is that the exciting flashes are not there. Every other quarterback in this spot, you see them. I’m not talking about C.J. Stroud or guys who just hit the ground running and look to be on their way to elite quarterback status. I’m talking about Bryce Young, Will Levis, and those players. They are high variance and have played some downright awful games, but they also have flashed heavily and put together at least one or two complete games that excited you. Even Justin Fields did that back in his rookie season.
Maybe in this late stretch, Pickett can do that. He can play a complete game that gives you the confidence he can take that leap. But right now, there’s nothing to suggest that. Pickett does not look like a first-round quarterback, but I’d play him the rest of the way to see what he’s got.
Kenny Pickett is the first quarterback since the AFL-NFL 1970 merger to throw a touchdown on fewer than 2% of his attempts career attempts (1.9%) and keeps setting new records on the wrong side of this. Pickett has yet to explode for that career outing that screams to you. There’s nothing substantial to latch onto in that area.
Pittsburgh has to accept their quarterback is a big part of the problem here. He’s not all of it. No, not by a long shot. But at some point, Pickett has to clang one out.
The issue with all of that is Pickett’s inherent play style. He lacks the precision and accuracy to dice up defenses as a pocket passer. He likes to play backyard football, which is a volatile space, but Pittsburgh is trying to get him to improve in the pocket. Make it akin to Josh Allen, who does that but turns the ball over. Pickett plays in a similar vein but lacks the physical tools Allen does. It’s not at all sustainable.
With all the other problems around him, Pittsburgh has to accept that Pickett is a significant part of this flawed offense. Once they do, they can try to figure out solutions from there. But the reality has to be acknowledged.