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Film Room: Has George Pickens Taken Over As WR1 In Pittsburgh?

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a tough one at home to the New York Jets on Sunday by a score of 24-20. Pittsburgh struggled to get anything going once against to start the game as Mitch Trubisky completed only 53% of his pass attempts in the first half for only 84 yards along with an INT, prompting HC Mike Tomlin to make a change at QB and have Kenny Pickett open the second half of play.

While the offense once again underwhelmed for the most part in this one, the young pieces on the offensive side of the football flashed some promise. Pickett completed 10-of-13 pass attempts and ran for two scores in a half of play while TE Pat Freiermuth had his best game of the season thus far, posting seven receptions for 85 yards as the lead target getter for Pittsburgh. However, it was rookie WR George Pickens who stole the show in this one, going over the century mark in his fourth regular season performance by catching six passes on eight targets for 102 yards (17.0 YPC).

The Film

When you go back and watch the tape on Pickens, you see a receiver that is becoming more comfortable in the offense with each passing week. There are still some areas the rookie needs to refine to his game like this incomplete pass deep down the field from Trubisky where it appears as if Pickens slows down and is looking for the ball to drop into his hands, thus allowing #29 Lamarcus Joyner to catch up and break up the pass. Pickens should try and come back to the ball here with the defender in front of him, positioning himself perfectly to force the incompletion.

 

Still, we saw plenty of instances where Pickens used his body to shield off defenders and make contested catches in this contest. One comes on this play that was wiped out by an illegal man downfield penalty by Kevin Dotson, but we see Pickens get a step on #1 Sauce Gardner inside on the slant route as he boxes out the long, lanky defender on his backside and makes the catch over the middle.

 

On this play in the fourth quarter with Kenny Pickett in the game, we watch Pickens make this contested catch against #30 Michael Carter II look routine on the slot fade up the left sideline. Pickens comes back to the football and uses his size and body to shield off Carter who tries to get a hand into knock away the pass as Pickens reels it in and continues to fight for extra yardage after the catch until being brought down out of bounds.

 

Pickens actually made a more impressive grab earlier in the game on this back shoulder fade on third down in the third quarter. He gets one-on-one coverage with #4 D.J. Reed and works to try and get and outside release as Pickett steps back to pass, putting the pass near the sideline behind Pickens who manages to twirl around and make the catch along the sideline on the toe tap before falling out of bounds.

 

Here is another view of the catch from above, showing Pickens’ impressive body control and spatial awareness to haul in the catch while attempting to get his feet down in the green.

 

What was a pleasant surprise in Week 4 was the change in George Pickens’ route tree and his usage more all over the field rather than running basic go routes and fades.

He is a couple of examples of Pickens making catches over the middle with the first clip coming in the final moments of the game where New York is playing prevent defense, allowing Pickens to get the easy reception. The second clip shows a high-low concept where Chase Claypool draw coverage underneath, freeing up Pickens to make the catch in space at the chains and pick up extra YAC.

 

One thing that continues to stick out when watching Pickens is his effort to pick up every yard possible after the catch. He isn’t extremely elusive or shifty with the ball in his hands, but for a bigger receiver, Pickens does possess some wiggle and fight to get the dirty yards when met by a defender trying to bring him down. Here is one example of Pickens and his effort to pick up YAC on a quick comeback route to the left sideline where Pickens catches the pass and spins around, getting out of the arm tackle of one defender as he tries to juke out another and falls forward for a few extra yards to set up third-and-short.

 

Another aspect of Pickens’ game that continues to stick out as well is his aggressiveness as a blocker. The guy epitomizes what is means to be a dawg like his alma mater at Georgia as he actively looks to destroy defenders with big blocks. Add Michael Carter II to the list of DBs feeling Pickens’ wrath after this decleater at the top of your screen as Diontae Johnson takes the jet sweep to the left for a short gain.

 

Conclusion

Overall, it was a good showing by Pickens who is looking to become a more-featured part of the offense with each passing week as depicted by the stats below:

Week 1: 3 TGTs, 1 REC, 3 YDs

Week 2: 2 TGTs, 1 REC, 23 YDs

Week 3: 7 TGTs, 3 REC, 39 YDs

Week 4: 8 TGTs, 6 REC, 102 YDs

For an offense that has struggled to get anything going in the intermediate and deep quadrants of the field, George Pickens has provided Pittsburgh with a shot of big play ability in the passing game. Pickens currently is tied for second place in the league with 20+ yard targets (9), trailing only fellow rookie WR Chris Olave who has 15 through four weeks.

Not only is he getting more downfield looks, but Pickens is also becoming a go-to target for whatever QB is in the game. He was second in target share for Pittsburgh on the afternoon at 32%, trailing only TE Pat Freiermuth who sat at 36%.  He saw three-straight targets from Pickett in the third quarter, being the guy the offense went to when they needed a play.

George Pickens is still raw is several aspects of his game and needs some seasoning to become a more refined route technician, but his natural raw talent is unmatched in Pittsburgh’s WR core. The chemistry between Pickett and Pickens was evident this Sunday, and should Pickett continue to hold onto the QB1 spot, there is a chance that Pickens could usurp Diontae Johnson as the preferred target in the passing game. A lot is still up in-the-air at this point, but for a Steelers team that has a lot of issues on both side of the ball as we sit here today, it’s fair to say that George Pickens appears to be a star in the making for years to come.

What are your thoughts on George Pickens’ performance against the New York Jets? Do you think this was a coming out party for the rookie WR? What are the chances that he surpasses Diontae Johnson as WR1 at some point this season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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