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Steelers Analysis

Will Frustrated George Pickens Become Distraction for Steelers?



Steelers WR George Pickens
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens sits on the sideline during his team's game against the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 2, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — George Pickens is not happy, that much was clear to anyone with any ability to read body language during and after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 20-16 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night.

Pickens had two catches in the game for a net loss of one yard. That’s not going to make any receiver happy, and Pickens probably has good reason to be frustrated.

He was spotted sulking and arguing on the Steelers sideline during the game, didn’t celebrate with teammates after Diontae Johnson’s fourth-quarter touchdown. He even had a bizarre post on Instagram on Friday.

He certainly ought to be mad at himself. Pickens had a gift-wrapped (at least for his talent level) touchdown in the third quarter that could have let the Steelers have a rare stress-free victory, but he wasn’t able to get his second foot down, despite plenty of opportunity to do so.

He could also be frustrated with quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett ultimately determines who gets the football, and Pickens had only five targets in the game. One of them was a bad miss by his quarterback on what could have become a big play.

He could also just be frustrated by the attention he’s getting from defenses. Pickens has been the target of double coverage almost all season, and even with the return of Diontae Johnson, that hasn’t really let up. Teams seem comfortable in letting Johnson take short gains while keeping the big-play beast that is Pickens chained down.

Since Johnson returned to the lineup against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 7, Johnson has 29 targets and 20 catches. Pickens has 18 targets and just eight catches.

Steelers WR George Pickens

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Darious Williams gets his hands on a ball intended for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens on Oct. 29, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

But Pickett pointed out that disparity goes hand in hand. If it weren’t for teams obsessing over stopping Pickens, Johnson and the Steelers running game wouldn’t be having as much success.

“He’s going to get double a lot and that’s why you see Diontae get singled up, and Diontae is doing a great job on the other side,” Pickett said. “Credit to him. He takes to guys. The run game is opening up because of him. There’s a lot of things that he’s not getting credit for right now in the stat sheet, but he’s helping us win football games. …

“So you definitely want to reward him. I wish we hit that one in the red zone on the slot fade. Continuing to try to get him the football as many ways as we can, but definitely want to appreciate him for what he does to the defenses. That opens everything else up.”

This isn’t the first time that Pickens has shown his frustration. There have been multiple instances of his teammates talking him through his issues on the sideline over his two seasons, even in training camp. He’s an emotional player who wears his heart on his sleeve at times.

RELATED: George Pickens Slams Criticism for Sideline Outburst: ‘It’s Not Me, It’s Y’all’

So far, Pickens’ frustrations have not caused any noticeable negativity throughout the team. If that continues, his passion and desire to help his team win can be a positive. But the Steelers also know that they do need to find a way to get the ball to their best playmaker.

“We’ve had dynamic receivers here before who get a lot of attention,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. What’s unsaid is that they still found a way to get them the ball.