While many watching the Pittsburgh Steelers play in their ‘primetime’ preseason debut on Saturday night may have come away pleasantly surprised by the overall level of performance coming from the quarterback position, those in camp did not.
“A lot of the things we saw, we’ve seen”, offensive coordinator Matt Canada said of the in-stadium performance matching the practice setting, according to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “A lot of the plays we saw happen and executed, we’ve seen. And some of the plays that we didn’t make or didn’t do quite as well as we hoped, we’ve seen those, too”.
The Steelers have three quarterbacks working, mixing and matching with different personnel groupings, as they look for the most immediate successor to Ben Roethlisberger. Mitch Trubisky has been the number one since he signed as a free agent in March, but veteran Mason Rudolph and rookie first-round selection Kenny Pickett have been holding their own.
All three quarterbacks led touchdown drives and threw touchdown passes against the Seattle Seahawks, with Trubisky and Pickett opening the first and second halves, respectively, with scores through the air. Pickett, who played the most snaps by far, scored twice, including the game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns with three seconds left.
The box score doesn’t tell the whole story, of course, nor even does the tape. It’s the full process that the coaching staff is looking at, from every angle, and the Steelers have been diligent about sticking to their own timelines.
“The plan is the plan”, Canada told Batko in an echo of head coach Mike Tomlin in speaking about the team’s method of working through the quarterback position this fall. “We have a plan, and until something drastically changes it, we’re going to continue to methodically go through our plan”.
“We’re not making sudden moves”, he added.
Does that comment suggest that it truly is Trubisky’s job to lose, provided that he continues to perform at an adequate level? Tomlin has spoken openly about the importance of acknowledging a hierarchy at the position as the only way it can function, even in a competitive setting.
The Steelers drafted Pickett because they believe he is an NFL-quality starting quarterback. His debut went about as well as one could have realistically hoped for, even if there is room for improvement. Rudolph has arguably been the most consistent from a play-to-play basis, but also offers perhaps the best deep ball.
Only the coaching staff can say for sure exactly what ‘the plan’ is as beat writers and bloggers alike bemusedly note with vigor each variation in quarterback combinations they employ with different offensive lines and wide receivers.
But the coaches know what they’re doing, and we’ll all find out soon enough what conclusion they reach. And we can’t say that it wasn’t arrived at with a method, even if it might sometimes look like madness from a distance.