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 to Kenny Pickett: Game Grade.
December 24th – Las Vegas Raiders
Kenny Pickett was 26/39 for 244 yards with one touchdown and one interception on Sunday. It was his first turnover since Week 8. Pickett also ran the ball three times for nine yards and did not take a sack in the game.
Pickett started off slow throwing for just 65 yards in the first half – that plus a missed field goal led to just three points at halftime.
Things got moving in the second half with 179 passing yards and 10 points on the board.
Pickett utilized the middle of the field pretty heavily in this one which is a change from normal. He also relied on his top playmakers to mount the comeback. Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris accounted for 88% of the catches, 94% of the passing yards and 81% o the targets in this one.
Pickett saved his best for last, going 7/9 for 75 yards and a touchdown on the team’s game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Now let’s dive into some of the categories to determine Kenny Pickett: Game 9 Grade.
It wasn’t necessarily a bad day for Kenny Pickett’s accuracy. But it certainly was a costly one. Pickett completed two-thirds of his passes on Sunday which gave him his fourth best completion percentage on the season. However there were three or four plays that were big misses in this one.
With two minutes left in the second quarter Pickett attempted a pass to Freiermuth on 3rd and 8 from the Raiders 26. The pass was multiple feet above Freiermuth’s head and Pittsburgh had to settle for a field goal.
In the third quarter Pickett missed high to Diontae Johnson twice over the middle. The first one didn’t really have an effect as they were able to get the first down (although it was the same drive as the interception). But the second miss led to a punt just two plays later.
Kenny’s last bad throw was to Najee Harris late in the game. Poor footwork led to a high pass that was nearly an interception had Harris not gotten a hand on it.
Pickett completed a lot of his passes – and some were pretty high level. Tight-window throws over the middle, a great back shoulder throw to George Pickens in the third quarter for 25 yards, etc. But his few inaccurate passes were a big swing in the game.
Pickett was making good decisions for the most part in this one. His lone interception wasn’t so much bad decision making as bad field vision. Pickett was flustered in the pocket and saw Connor Heyward get open from the initial defender. But what he didn’t take time to. check was the linebacker, Denzel Perryman, coming from the other side to pick off the pass.
There was only one play early in the first quarter I felt Pickett pass on an obvious open receiver in favor of something else. For the most part he seemed to go in the right direction with the ball each time. However, there are still too many times where he keys in on his first option when things may have opened up if he waited just half a second.
This was a great day in the pocket for Pickett. If you’ve been following along you know this is my number one concern with Pickett and he’s really impressed me this season. What I liked this week was his ability to maneuver within the pocket. We didn’t see him just scramble when needed, or even escape the pocket to extend the play with the pass. But this week we also saw him smoothly take one or two steps one way within the pocket to create room. Or even turn his body slightly to get a better angle. On one play he even climbed the pocket to open space to make a throw.
Pickett’s pocket presence has gotten better every week this season, and has been one of the most impressive parts of his rookie year.
244 yards and a touchdown is nothing to sneeze at. In a league where under 200 yards is more the norm for most quarterbacks this season it’s actually impressive. But – it did take a long time to get going. 179 second half passing yards, with 75 on the final drive doesn’t scream “productive game”. You also have to factor in Pittsburgh not scoring a touchdown until there was less than a minute in the game. Pickett had his moments and racked up the yards, but I wouldn’t call it a game with a lot of production.
Final Grade: C+
This was a pretty good game for Pickett. He got the win, had a great end to the game, and has his best outing in the pocket. He also made some high-level throws, while having a few key misses. Overall the lack of production kept this grade lower than my last few, but you see a lot of the progress he’s made still on the tape.
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