Pittsburgh Steelers sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett was outstanding in Thursday’s 24-0 preseason blowout of the Atlanta Falcons. Pickett completed 4-of-4 passing attempts for 86 yards. Both of Pickett’s offensive drives ended in touchdowns for the Steelers. Pickett appears poised to make a major leap in year two.
On Atlanta’s first possession, Pickett threw a gorgeous deep ball to sophomore wide receiver George Pickens for a 35-yard gain down to Atlanta’s 1-yard line. The ball placement was precise and highlighted how Pickett has become a more accurate quarterback this offseason. Najee Harris punched it in for a touchdown.
Kenny Pickett to George Pickens: pic.twitter.com/nilLmwVp4n
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 24, 2023
Earlier on that drive, Pickett converted a crucial 3rd-and-5 to keep Pittsburgh’s offense on the field. Pickett located a streaking Diontae Johnson and hit his No. 1 receiver for a 33-yard gain. Note the pinpoint over-the-shoulder ball placement.
Kenny Pickett DIME
— NFL (@NFL) August 24, 2023
Pickett has terrific command of Pittsburgh’s offense and he’s seeing the field so well.
The victory over the Falcons concluded Pittsburgh’s preseason. Pickett played five total drives throughout the exhibition. He completed 13-of-15 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Pickett posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3. All five of Pickett’s possessions ended in touchdowns. Preseason success is always to be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s impossible to deny that Pickett appears to be a much-improved quarterback.
It’s the expected outcome. Signs of Pickett’s improvement were present toward the conclusion of his rookie season. The former Pitt Panther got consistently better as the campaign progressed forward. Through Pickett’s final five appearances, no quarterback had a higher EPA/play in the fourth quarter than he did.
During Pittsburgh’s final seven contests, Pickett ranked second in the league with a big-time throw rate of 6.9% while also attempting an NFL-best 1.1% of turnover-worthy throws. The Steelers won six of those seven games. Pickett’s clutch factor was on display as he began eliminating ill-advised decisions.
After throwing eight interceptions in his first five appearances, including two multi-interception showings, Pickett began taking better care of the football. The No. 20 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft miraculously threw just one interception in his final eight starts. Pickett began dissecting opposing defenses with better success.
Steelers general manager Omar Khan responded by wisely investing in Pickett’s development this offseason. Khan acquired veteran wideout Allen Robinson to round out a receiving trio that already included Johnson and Pickens. Pat Freiermuth, Harris, and Jaylen Warren complete an intriguing supporting cast of playmakers.
The Steelers also drafted former Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft to protect Pickett’s blindside. Khan’s rebuild of the offense may be complete. This Steelers offense should be significantly better than the one that averaged a 26th-ranked 18.1 points per game a season ago.
Improvement will be required if the Steelers hope to contend for the AFC North division title alongside the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals. We can’t ignore what appears to be much improved iterations of the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns either. Pickett’s development is crucial to the fate of Pittsburgh’s season.
Pickett was arguably the best quarterback throughout the 2023 preseason. The challenge is to now ensure that progress carries over to Pittsburgh’s regular-season campaign. All indications are that it will.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023