Kenny Pickett: Game Grade

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. It only helps this case that the Steelers are struggling – and might continue struggling – to get wins. With that said, let’s keep a running log of Pickett’s performances in each contest. Welcome to – Kenny Pickett: Game Grade

October 9th – Buffalo Bills

Kenny Pickett went 34/52 for 327 yards and one interception on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. He also took three sacks for a loss of 17 yards and had one carry for ten yards. With 310 yards of passing offense, it was the first time Pittsburgh had 300 or more yards through the air since the Wild Card matchup against the Cleveland Browns in 2020.

Let’s dive in to some of the key aspects of the game before we give our official grade.

Decision Making

Decision making is a very broad term I know – but it is arguably the most foundational part of the quarterback position. Kenny Pickett was drafted as a “pro-ready” QB with a lot of experience in an NFL-like system. So his ability to get on a field early and make the right plays is already vital.

Pickett does well in this regard. I like how quickly he analyzes and makes plays. Something that would get Mitch Trubisky in trouble was taking too long to diagnose the field. This would lead to missed throws, sacks or interceptions. The missed opportunities were the biggest issue. Pickett’s ability to quickly make a read and decide whether or not to throw are the biggest reason he was able to put up the yardage he did on Sunday.

But not every decision Pickett made was a good one. Obviously his interception was a bad – probably the worst of the four he’s thrown this year. On the throw to Diontae Johnson you could argue: he shouldn’t have thrown it, he telegraphed where he was going or even it was just bad ball placement.

On a few other plays it appeared that Pickett was perhaps too quick to make a play. Whether it was forcing to his first read, or quickly going to his checkdown instead of waiting for a play to develop. Not something that severely hurt the team from the standpoint of winning, but there were some plays left on the field.

Overall though this was a good day for the rookie quarterback in the decision making process against a good defense.

Pocket Presence

Perhaps my biggest concern with Pickett heading into the season was his pocket presence. At Pitt he had the tendency to drift in the pocket and put himself into trouble. This was the case on his interception against the New York Jets on the throw to Pat Freiermuth.

Against the Bills on Sunday Pickett was just OK in the pocket. Two of the three sacks Pittsburgh gave up in this one could be credited to Pickett’s pocket awareness. On one he tried to climb the pocket as it was collapsing. And the other he went to escape and ran straight into a defender.

On other plays Pickett left a clean pocket early. This made certain throws more difficult than they needed to be, or later than they should have been.

Arm Strength

Pickett’s arm strength was another concern going into the draft. We knew he didn’t have the arm of someone like Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. But could his arm be strong enough to get the job done?

In this one Pickett’s arm looked fine. He had a nice pass to Johnson on a comeback route that travelled about 25 air yards and was accurate to the sideline. However, he did have a shorter throw out to George Pickens die in the windy conditions.

Pittsburgh had a strong day in terms of Yards After the Catch (YAC) in this one. They should continue to look for those opportunities (especially in the middle of the field) to help mitigate Pickett’s arm strength.


Obviously the overall production in this one was not good. Pickett was put in the starting lineup because the Steelers were having trouble scoring. Any time you fail to register an offensive touchdown it’s going to reflect bad on the quarterback. Pickett also completed just 65% of his passes – a number you’d like to see a little higher in a blowout when theoretically some easier throws should be more open.

Final Grade – B

Pickett looked good overall in his first NFL start. While he needs to clean up his pocket presence and overall production, he appears to be moving in the right direction. He has stood tall in the pocket with good balance more than I expected from him this early – he just needs to improve on the timing of when to escape the pocket, climb, or maintain his ground.

Pickett’s overall timing and decision making as a passer though will be his calling card this season. And once an offense is put in place to take advantage of those skills there could be something there.

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