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Film Room: Kenny Pickett Didn’t Blink In First Career NFL Start

The Pittsburgh Steelers got throttled by the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon by a score of 38-3. The defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed in this one as they surrendered over 550 total yards of offense to Josh Allen and a dynamic Bills offense that let off the gas after taking a 31-3 lead at the half. The offense wasn’t any more inspiring as they struggled mightily on the ground and failed to convert in the red zone, settling for field goals when even K Chris Boswell had a rough outing, converting 1-of-3 field goal attempts.

Still, while the box score may spell doom and gloom on the Steelers’ 2022 season, there were a few notable performances that stood out to encourage optimism about the future of this team. WR George Pickens lead Pittsburgh in receiving for a second-straight week, looking more like the future WR1 he was touted to be coming out of Georgia thanks to his immense athletic ability and talent. Fellow rookie DL DeMarvin Leal also flashed when he was on the field, batting down two passes and being Pittsburgh’s best answer out on the edge in attempt to fill T.J. Watt’s role while Leal plays out of position.

However, the success or failure of Pittsburgh’s 2022 draft class will fall on how their first-round pick QB Kenny Pickett turns out. Pickett came into the game last week against the Jets to relieve Mitch Trubisky who was benched at half time and would get the nod to start the following week on the road in Buffalo against the AFC-favorite Bills.

The Film

So, how did Pickett fare overall Sunday? After going through the All-22, I would say he graded out solid given the circumstances placed in-front of him. Pickett went 34/52 (65%) for 327 yards and zero TDs with an INT while throwing in one carry for ten yards on 75 offensive snaps.

When watching Pickett, one thing that immediately stuck out from the tape was his poise in the pocket. There were plenty of instances Sunday where the defense was bearing down on him, but he stood tall, found an open receiver, and threw an accurate pass while getting hit in attempt to make a play. Here is one example on a completion to Zach Gentry running a short drag as Pickett locates his TE over the middle and puts it on him as he gets sandwiched by DaQuan Jones and Von Miller.

 

Here is another play where Pickett is under duress in the pocket but manages to get the ball off to Diontae Johnson breaking in towards the middle of the field. The pass is low to the ground, but Johnson is in-position to make the play yet is unable to reel in the reception as Pickett gets dropped by Miller and a host of other Bills defenders.

 

If you can take one thing from this game about Pickett, it’s that the dude is one tough son of a gun that will take the punishment as long as he gives his receivers a chance to make a play. Watch this pass to Jaylen Warren in the flat where Pickett gets absolutely decked on the LB/S blitz off the right side but keeps his eyes on Warren and completes the follow through motion on the pass before hitting the turf. Warren makes the catch, spins out of one tackle, and runs through another to fight for the first down.

 

Along with his poise in the pocket, Kenny Pickett displayed good accuracy on several of his more challenging throws on the afternoon. Being in Buffalo for his first career start with the wind being a factor, Pickett had good ball placement on several throws to the sideline, giving his weapons a chance to make a play. Check out these throws to the sideline to Diontae Johnson who can’t get both feet down in-bounds, resulting in an incompletion. The second clip shows Pickett attempting to drop the ball into the bucket to Johnson in the end zone tries to tight rope the out of bounds line, but just can’t get both feet in-bounds for the score.

 

Here are a few more examples of throws to the sideline from Pickett, showing a fair amount of zip and velocity on passes to George Pickens who makes the catch in-bounds and a third down throw to Diontae Johnson who makes the catch, but can’t hold onto the ball as the defender knocks it out of his hands to break up the completion.

 

Pickett wasn’t timid in his first career NFL start, displaying the trust in his receivers to go up and make a play when in coverage. Here on this throw to Diontae Johnson over the middle, we see Pickett utilize a full skill set as he scans the field, feels the pressure of Miller getting off the block and scrambles to his right, finds Johnson getting into open space, and throws the ball while on the run across his body to Johnson who is wide open. The pass is a little high from Pickett as he attempts to torque the throw across his body, but it does hit Johnson in the hands, being unable to reel it in as the defense nearly picks off the tipped pass, but luckily falls incomplete.

 

Pickett’s backyard football style brings back some similarities of a young Ben Roethlisberger, having the mobility to get outside of the pocket and bide time and allow his weapons to get open. Roethlisberger also tried to put balls up for grabs along the sideline, giving his receivers a chance to make a play and outbattle the defender in coverage. Antonio Brown made a living on these types of throws from Ben, and Pickett made a similar type of pass here on this completion to George Pickens at the bottom of your screen, putting the ball up on the back shoulder throw along the sideline that Pickens elevates up and brings down with Kaiir Elam contesting the pass.

 

While Pickett had plenty of moments where he showed promise Sunday in Buffalo, there were also several occasions where his limited experience and limitations showed up on film. There were occasions where he would lock onto a single target instead of scanning the field, resorting to take the check down rather than make a throw for potentially more yardage. Here is a good example where Pickett locates Gentry in the flat who catches the pass and gets up field for the first down but misses Chase Claypool running free over the middle of the field for a potentially big catch-and-run opportunity.

 

On Pickett’s INT against Buffalo, we see him drop back to pass against a Cover 1 look and targets Diontae Johnson who easily blows past Elam in coverage. However, Pickett doesn’t put enough on the pass toward Johnson as Elam is in-position to set in-front of the pass and pick it off. With the safety rolling down and Elam underneath, Pickett’s best bet was to put the pass closer to the sideline for a hole shot or target one of his underneath options who were open for a catch-and-run opportunity.

 

Much was made during the pre-draft process about Pickett’s arm strength and how it didn’t compare to fellow rookie QB Malik Willis or some of the top QBs in the league like Josh Allen on the opposite sideline. While Pickett can make most NFL throws, the lack of throw power especially in off-platform situations is evident. Watch as Pickett targets Pickens at the top of the screen but stutters his feet as he lets go of the pass, resulting in a low throw to the turf the Pickens must save from hitting the ground. Pickens makes the catch and manages to fight for the first down, but Pickett needs to play with better mechanics to deliver a better ball since he doesn’t have the arm strength to make up for poor footwork.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a good performance from Kenny Pickett who did demonstrate some issues in terms of identifying open receiver and making full field reads, but he also showcased good ball placement, touch, and accuracy on most of his throws in the contest. The interception was an ugly play, but Pickett put the ball on his receivers in a good spot in plenty of examples with more completions being left on the table due to drops and the inability to get down in-bounds.

Pickett also displayed the poise and leadership you want to see in a starting NFL QB, not blinking in the face of a fierce Buffalo pass rush who hit him early and often in this one. He stood in the pocket and made accurate throws to his man, knowing fully well he was going to get lit up, but remained unfazed.

Pickett showed continued fight throughout the game in a contest that Pittsburgh was expected to lose badly. While you would have liked to see more third down conversions and the offense successfully put points up on the board, the missed plays by receivers and lack of a running game all played against Pickett in his first career NFL start against arguably the best team in the AFC, but he managed to represent himself well out there. Still, Pickett will need to be more consistent in terms of reading the field and throwing with better mechanics to try and sustain drives and put points on the board. However, based off what we saw from Pickett on Sunday, Steelers fans should at least have optimism that they have a guy at QB that appears to have the leadership qualities and toughness to lead this team going forward.

What are your thoughts on Kenny Pickett’s performance against the Buffalo Bills? Do you think he represented himself well given the circumstances, or do you think he needs to play far better than he did on Sunday? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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