Bill Cowher knows what it’s like starting a rookie quarterback, coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers during the team’s historical 2004 season. But 2004 and 2022 couldn’t be any different. The 2004 team won every single regular season game Roethlisberger started, finishing the year 15-1 with a strong run game, elite defense and veteran-laden team. 2022 is the complete opposite. Zero run game, a defense that’s been average at best and plenty placed on Kenny Pickett’s shoulders.
After another blowout loss, 35-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles, Cowher wondered if the Steelers should bench Pickett in order to protect his future.
“Right now, I get worried about his confidence because I’ve seen this happen to other quarterbacks,” he said postgame on CBS. “Take the ball out of his hands. Don’t ask him to do as much as you’re asking him to do.”
In the three games Pickett has played from start to finish, he’s thrown the ball 52, 44, and 38 times, the latter in today’s loss. His dropbacks were well into the 40s, sacked six times while scrambling on several other plays. Pickett was beat up, and the six sacks allowed were the most given up by a Steelers’ offense since 2009. It felt similar to the team’s blowout loss in 2008, a game in which Pittsburgh quarterbacks were sacked nine times.
Though it came late in the game, Pickett threw his eighth interception of the season while failing to throw a touchdown pass. On the year, Pickett has only fired a pair of touchdowns, now just one more than what WR Chase Claypool has on the season. Once again, the Steelers’ offense did little to push the ball downfield, just two completions of 20+ yards, and Pickett averaged only five yards per attempt. Listening to Pickett after the game, he was clearly frustrated with the offense’s continued mental mistakes.
Pittsburgh’s run game continues to offer the Steelers nothing. Aside from Pickett scrambles and garbage time Jaylen Warren runs, the Steelers offered no threat on the ground. Cowher, with an old-school nature who used the run game to thrive in that 2004 (and 2005) seasons, says Pittsburgh must stop being so one-dimensional.
“You have to somehow shorten the game, no doubt, with this quarterback. And it goes back to running the ball. I’d put him back under the center. Don’t subject him to being back there and getting sacked six times today.”
A strong running game would go a long way to helping Pickett. But it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh will magically turn their run game around even after the bye. To Cowher’s point, maybe that means the team should bench Pickett. But it’s almost certain the Steelers will stick with him instead of changing quarterbacks – again – while letting Pickett learn and grow through a difficult rookie season.
Still, Cowher strongly hinted that would be the wrong move for Mike Tomlin to make.
“What’s in the best interest to develop this quarterback who’s your quarterback of the future? Without destroying his confidence.”
Check out his full commentary below.