Kenny Pickett is now the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. How Pickett performs is the biggest story in the Steel City from this point forward. For the rest of the season I’ll be grading Pickett’s performances for each game. Reminder – these posts are just grading the individual game each week. This is not a season-long grade or an indication if Pickett is “The Guy”. Welcome toKenny Pickett: Game Grade.
December 4th – Atlanta Falcons
Kenny Pickett was 16/28 for 197 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Pickett also had seven runs for 14 yards. It was the young QB’s fourth straight game without a turnover and his first game without taking a sack since he came in in relief during the Week 4 matchup against the New York Jets.
Pittsburgh had a strong start in this one taking a 16-6 lead into halftime. In the first two quarters Pickett was 10/19 for 145 1 TD. But once again the second half left something to be desired. Pittsburgh had just three real possessions in the second half amounting to three points and two punts. Pickett was 6/9 for 52 yards in the half. The drop-off in production is now a theme of the last three weeks and will be something to continue to monitor.
But in the meantime, let’s dive in to some of our categories to determine the Kenny Pickett: Game 8 Grade.
It was once again a clean day for Kenny Pickett. No interceptions, fumbles, or even a sack taken. His turnover-worthy plays also continue to go down with just one exception on the day. On a 1st &10 with 9:15 to go in the second quarter Pickett took a deep shot to Diontae Johnson in double-coverage. Johnson made a nice play to bat the ball away from the defenders, but it could have been an interception. But one bad idea definitely doesn’t hurt Pickett. Some of his decisions in terms of his pocket presence however left something to be desired.
A new wrinkle in decision making we have this week isn’t just the decision itself, but its also the process. More than in any other game this season I could physically see Pickett’s head moving across the field reading his progressions. For someone at the start of the year who was very “one read and go” this was a nice improvement to see.
Ok so Pickett took a small step back in this one in terms of his pocket presence. On the plus side as we’ve mentioned, Pickett did not take any sacks. And he didn’t put himself in any bad positions when it came to sacks. In fact if anything, I’d argue Pickett too often bailed from a clean pocket on more than one occasion and missed a passing opportunity because of it.
The best/worst example of this came with 11:05 to go in the third quarter. On 1st & 10 Pittsburgh ran a play with Johnson and George Pickens both going deep. Pickett felt a little pressure and missed an early opportunity to his Pickens. But then, Pickett had a chance to readjust and hit either player with plenty of time and space. You can see Pickett briefly hesitate before putting his head down and running for five yards. After the play you can see Pickett was frustrated he couldn’t get a pass off.
There were multiple smaller plays like this one. And eventually one or two of them will need to turn into chunk plays or touchdowns. But for this game you’re happy with Pickett not taking a sack for the first time in his career.
Accuracy and ball placement continue to improve for Pickett as he learns what his NFL teammates are capable of. There are three plays I’d like to highlight in this one to show Pickett’s improvement, or at least ability to adjust, in this department.
At the 13:48 mark in the second quarter Pittsburgh had a 2nd & 11 from the Atlanta 27. Pickett overthrew Tight End Pat Freiermuth by a yard or two on what would have been a walk-in touchdown down the seam. On the very next drive with 7:06 remaining in the half, Pickett hit Tight End Connor Heyward for a touchdown on 1st &15 from the Atlanta 17. Pickett was able to put this ball more on Heyward, and also utilized the back of the end zone, something he has struggled (and continues to at times) to do.
The final play to note here came with 5:32 remaining in the third quarter. On 2nd & 13 Pickett took a shot to the end zone to Johnson who was covered one-on-one. Pickett put the ball right on Johnson where it was contested by Cornerback AJ Terrell. But Pickett had about seven yards to the back of the end zone to play with, with Johnson ahead of Terrell. Putting the ball out ahead of his receivers and letting them make a play is something Pickett is still working on.
The Steelers as a whole are coming back down to earth a bit in terms of production. Scoring 30, 24, and 19 points respectively in their last three games. And despite having more first downs (22) in the game against the Falcons compared their 30 point performance against the Cincinnati Bengals (17) their red zone efficiency has dropped. (3/5 in Week 11, 2/3 in Week 12, and just 1/3 in Week 13). If Pickett and the Steelers can’t turn more of these opportunities into touchdowns this winning streak might not last long.
Final Grade: B-
This game was very similar to the one against the Bengals. Very productive and efficient first half, not so much in the second. The only problem is Pittsburgh intentionally took their foot off the gas in the second half this week. Despite having a lead in both games at halftime, Pittsburgh knew the differences between their opponents. They were happy to try and run this game out in the third and fourth quarters, leading to just nine pass attempts for Pickett.
I’m giving Kenny Pickett the same grade I did in the Bengals game. He wasn’t quite as productive, but he was also a little smarter with the football and a little more accurate. One or two plays going differently and this grade could have been much higher. And both the in-game improvements in ball placement and improvement in reading the field helped him in this one, and should continue to help Pickett moving forward.
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