The start to Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett’s career has been anything but a smooth road since he took over as the starter in Week 5. But after the turbulent starts in his last four games, the rookie delivered the best performance of his young career so far against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
Pickett’s performance wasn’t necessarily perfect and it didn’t stand out in particular from a statistical standpoint. He completed 20 of his 28 attempts for just 174 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. What did stand out was the growth he’s had since taking over as a starter, something that was even visible over the course of this one game. His accuracy and ability to avoid turnovers for a third straight game emphasized that fact, and it only got better as it all culminated in an 11-play, 75-yard drive to put the Steelers ahead once and for all at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The three biggest tools to show up for Pickett on Monday night were his ball placement, pocket awareness, and mobility.
Accuracy and ball placement were some of Pickett’s greatest strengths in college, and we’re now starting to see him grow and develop his understanding of where and when to throw the ball at the NFL level. On the Steelers’ first play of what became their first touchdown drive of the night, Pickett showed off that accuracy and ball placement on a fantastic throw and catch to fellow rookie George Pickens.
— BlitzburghUSAVideos (@sdextrasmedia) November 29, 2022
It’s just a great all-around play on every side. Pickett did a great job keeping his eyes straight ahead to freeze the safety and prevent any extra help over the top. Then, he delivered a nice back-shoulder throw with the cornerback trying to lock down Pickens in one-on-one coverage. It was a perfectly placed pass between the defender and the sideline that allowed Pickens to reach back and make a fantastic catch with both feet still in bounds.
Poise has long been another one of Pickett’s greatest strengths as well. Pickett has consistently done well facing down pressure in the pocket and finding comfort in letting plays develop in front of him before making a throw, even if it occasionally means leaving the pocket. One of his best throws of the night came at the very start of the fourth quarter on a play on 3rd-and-9.
— follow @dubs408 (@somedubvids) November 29, 2022
The rookie quarterback saw that his first read, the receiver running the drag route over the middle, had drawn two linebackers across the field to defend. Pickett then shifted his eyes to his second read, Pickens running a deeper dig route in the opposite direction. As pressure began to bleed into the pocket, the quarterback shifted to his left, always keeping his eyes downfield, and delivered another perfectly placed ball to a diving Pickens right as his throwing window opened and right before the pressure got home. That’s a big-time throw on 3rd-and-long, extending what turned out to be the touchdown drive the Steelers needed.
Of course, the big play of the game was the two-point conversion that ensued after a rushing play ended that aforementioned touchdown drive. Pickett combined his mobility, poise, and ball placement to make something happen. He evaded pressure when defenders got through his offensive line before the play developed by rolling out to his right. After he was out of the pocket, he executed a perfect throw on the run to Pickens in the back corner of the end zone, just out of reach of the Colts’ cornerback.
Pickett and Pickens picked a good time for this two-point conversion 😏
— NFL (@NFL) November 29, 2022
So no, Monday Night Football didn’t give us a perfect Kenny Pickett start or an eye-popping statistical performance, but it did give us a glimpse of what kind of quarterback he can be at the NFL level. When asked to step up and make plays for his team at the most crucial of moments, the rookie did precisely that, all while keeping the ball out of harm’s way all night. Kenny Pickett already looks to be showing signs of great development this season after some early struggles as a new starter, and as he gets more NFL experience, he’ll only continue to get better.