Kenny Pickett brings clarity to the Steelers quarterback confusion

Coming into the 2022 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are undrafted at the quarterback position for the first time since 2004. That’s the year the team selected Ben Roethlisberger out of Miami (Ohio) with the 11th overall pick in that draft . Roethlisberger spent the next 18 seasons building a Hall of Fame resume, but with his retirement, the Steelers are looking to replace him in any way possible.

There’s Mason Rudolph, on the roster since the Steelers drafted him out of Oklahoma State in the third round of the 2018 draft. There’s former Bears first-round pick and Bills backup Mitch Trubisky, who signed a two-year, 14-year contract. $3 million with $5.25 million guaranteed. And there’s Pitt alum Kenny Pickett, selected with the 20th pick in the 2022 draft.

That’s a lot of moving parts and not a lot of definition in the game’s most important position. Through two preseason games, Pickett has muddied the waters for anyone who thought Trubisky would be the in fact starter.

Right now, Pickett has a 142.5 quarterback rating with just three incompletions and three touchdowns on just 22 dropbacks.

Not only did Pickett understand and take advantage of his pre-reads, but he played with great anticipation and trusted his receivers to make plays. especially in the two-minute drive before halftime last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let’s dive into the film to find out why Pickett is making the starting quarterback position a battle at Steelers camp!

Pickett’s two-minute drive set him apart.

Aside from Pickett’s overall calm demeanor, there were three distinct skill sets that stood out when watching his two-minute drive against the Jaguars: Pre-snap reads, anticipation and poise.

Let’s start with the anticipation.

On first and 10 at their own 44-yard line, the Steelers lined up in a 3×1 look with a one-on-one matchup on the outside. Johnson was running a slant down the middle. Pickett knows Johnson will make his cut inside when the linebacker comes out to cover the flat.

Once again, Pickett moves the ball another 10 yards (with defenders in his face) giving his offense a new set of downs where they end up punting the ball to stop the clock.

On the third play of this drive, Pickett is pressured by the Jaguars defensive line (again) but holds firm in the pocket. Since there is a blitz coming from the left side and the Steelers have been on trips to the left side, Picket can play the numbers game.

On the final play of the drive, the Steelers use motion to secure man coverage. Once again Pickett looks at the scrappy defense and decides that because the Jaguars defenders are lined up so far inside, he lets the running back win the leverage play in a foot race to the end zone.

Trubisky’s response was up-and-down.

Overall, Trubisky showed some hesitation, but he also showed great bounce back from some misses. In his eight drop backs, there were two sets of plays where he had good reads and ball placement when he cashed in from the play before.

Here, the Steelers were calling route ideas to the right side.

In both clips the inside receiver runs a corner route and is open but Trubisky hesitates and ends up opening the play but overturns his receiver.

Trubisky makes a big recovery to move the chains.

In the video below, we have two games back-to-back. In the first clip, Trubisky gets pressured while waiting for the play to develop and ends up getting a sack.

When watching that first clip from the corner of the end zone, if Trubisky had any sense of urgency, he could have gotten the ball to Chase Claypool over the middle.

But Trubisky recovers well on the next play. Once he gets to the back of the pocket, he hits Dionte Johnson over the middle.

The placement is good enough to gain a few yards after the catch as well. If there’s one thing both quarterbacks show, it’s that his excellent positioning gives their receivers a chance to catch it on the run.

Trubisky vs. Pickett

In Trubisky’s last game against the Jaguars, the Steelers lined up in a 3×1 formation with a bunch on the right side.

That was very similar to what Pickett saw during the two-minute drive before halftime, as both plays were in similar situations, both third-and-10.

The plan was to attack the middle of the field, since the Jaguars defense was lined up in a blanket over the top.

When Trubisky ran the play, he controlled it to the running back outside, which ended up being his last throw of the night.

Comparing both quarterbacks, Pickett seems to win out when it comes to his poise in the pocket when faced with pressure. He doesn’t hesitate and trusts his eyes (as most rookie quarterbacks do when faced with basic looks). Although there was some hesitation from Trubisky when he saw open receivers, it’s a positive that he recovered quickly. He also showed that he can take chances and also keep drives alive with his legs when the Steelers offensive line is overrun.

We can’t ignore the fact that this was still a dangerous shot by Trubisky, and in the end it was Pickett who put points on the board for his team. Keep in mind that both quarterbacks were facing the Jaguars’ starting defensive line. Pickett showed better poise and quicker decision making.

conclusion

The Steelers play their final preseason game Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Lions. Here’s what Tomlin had to say about the quarterback competition when asked about it after last week’s game.

“A lot of points are going to come down to this project. This project is weighted differently and rightly so. On-field work is important, and increasingly so with more on-field exposure. So make no mistake, this is an important game for a lot of people.”

Right now, we’re not sure if Trubisky will have to prove this weekend that he’s worth the starting job. If so, notice the similarities in the play calls for both quarterbacks when faced with similar situations. Even though Trubisky can win the game now, it doesn’t mean he will until early in the season. Tomlin has always said this is a quarterback competition, and if there’s one thing Pickett has shown us so far, it’s that he deserves this opportunity to compete.

For now, it’s Trubisky’s spot to lose, but Pickett is clearly on the rise.

This story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire

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