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Kenny Pickett and His Insane Splits Make Little Sense



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

It’s true. The fourth quarter experience with Kenny Pickett is real not just on tape but on the stat sheet, too. While he plays like a mediocre quarterback between quarters one through three, he has this weird clutch factor that pops up every time the Steelers are in a close game. It’s a mysterious experience that rarely happens as cleanly as this one, but Pickett follows this line.

According to Pro Football Focus, since Kenny Pickett came into the league when playing in the fourth quarter or overtime down seven or less, Picketts’ grade is higher than anyone but Tom Brady. He sandwiched right between Brady and Patrick Mahomes. That’s how bizarrely good he has been in those spots.

In the fourth quarter this year, Pickett completed 72.7% of his passes with a 108.2 passer rating, but outside of the quarter, those numbers plummeted to 58.6% of his passes with a 75.3 passer rating in quarters one through three this season. The question the Steelers have to answer is why Pickett can suddenly find this magical level of play in the fourth quarter while, at times, sinking them earlier in games. It creates games that end up needlessly.

“We’re trying to do that every quarter,” receiver Diontae Johnson said. “We didn’t do that as well as we wanted to tonight. But that’s the goal. Every quarter. To start fast and put points on the board. Games won’t go our way sometimes, but we have to keep playing. That’s what we did, and we came out on top.”

The team has to figure these splits out at some level. Pickett has the intangibles to shine in those moments, but it’s not sustainable against every team in every game. It’s a credit to Pickett that he can rise, but if he could be the guy in the fourth quarter for the entire game, Pittsburgh would feel great about what they have at quarterback. It’s about finding out how to draw that guy out consistently and not just when the game is on the line.

You often hear about guys that are ‘clutch,’ but more often than not, the clutch guys are just outstanding players. Pickett is not among the elite echelon of quarterbacks and yet becomes one of the best players in the NFL over the last two years in crunch time. It’s one of the strangest phenomenons in sports right now. How do crack the code to get Pickett to play at a high level the rest of the game is anyone’s guess, but it’s those late flashes that keep drawing the Steelers and everyone back into him as a player.