The Pittsburgh Steelers lost close one Sunday night in Miami, falling to the Dolphins by a score of 16-10. The offense again struggled mightily throughout the contest, but yet again, rookie WR #14 George Pickens made a couple of plays that shined brightly in what was a rather dismal performance offensively.
Pickens’ first target of the game didn’t come until the 8:37-mark in the second quarter 17 plays for 56 yards up until that point. Pickens makes his presence felt on his reception of the game, exploiting a blown coverage assignment by the Dolphins for a gain of 30 yards. CB #9 Noah Igbinoghene drifts too far inside with his back to Pickens as the receiver runs up the left sideline, leaving Pickens wide open for the easy pitch-and-catch from Kenny Pickett. Igbinoghene and S #29 Brandon Jones undoubtedly have a miscommunication here on the play, but Pickens takes advantage regardless for Pittsburgh’s biggest play of the game.
Just a few plays later, we see Pickett go back to Pickens for a pair of back-to-back short pass attempts near the LOS. The first catch by Pickens on an in-braking curl route where Pickens spots up for the quick completion for six yards before getting tackled. The very next play, Pickens runs a quick out to the right sideline which Pickett puts on him for a gain of four for the first down.
It wouldn’t be right to conduct a film room breaking down Pickens without him making another improbable catch that causes fans’ jaws to drop. At the end of a 13-play drive, Kenny Pickett looks for Pickens in the end zone on a fade to the back corner on second-and-goal. Pickens is in close quarters with Noah Igbinoghene right on top of him, locates the football in the air, then twirls around in the air to make the back shoulder catch in contested coverage, getting his left foot down first then taps his right foot down in-bounds before falling out to secure the catch for his first TD in the NFL.
Here is a slowed-down version of the same play showcasing Pickens’ impressive body control, awareness, and catch radius to snag the pass outside of his frame while turning around and tight roping the sideline for the score. Pickens tried to make a similar grab against the Bills earlier this season, but put his hand down before his foot, resulting in an incomplete pass. He learned from that missed opportunity and makes the catch in this one, getting both feet down in-bounds before breaking his fall with his arm for the touchdown.
For whatever reason, Pickens wasn’t targeted again until the 5:43-mark in the fourth quarter after Pittsburgh opened up the second half with five straight punts. Pittsburgh was inside Miami territory on their 48-yard line and went to Pickens on back-to-back plays for the second time in the contest. Pickens first catch comes on an out route to the sideline where Miami is in zone coverage, dropping back to prevent anything deep as Pickett gets the easy completion to Pickens for a gain of nine yards. The second clip shows Pickens spotting up in the middle of the field for the easy completion over the middle to move the chains on second-and-one with a gain of five yards.
Overall, it was a good performance for Pickens for what he was asked to do, but you were left wanting in terms of what more he could have done to make an impact on this game. While it was a blown coverage, Pickens did account for Pittsburgh’s longest play from scrimmage in the game as well as yet another spectacular catch that resulting in Pittsburgh’s only TD of the game. Mike Tomlin mentioned the contour of the coverage as a reason why they went away from Pickens at times in the game, mentioning that they have plenty of other capable playmakers to throw the ball to.
While the Steelers may have other receivers capable of making plays, the lack of getting Pickens involved when he has shown the capability of doing so much more in the passing game is frustrating as the offense continues to sputter. Josh Carney made the reference on The Terrible Podcast today stating that it feels like Pittsburgh is treating Pickens who is a Lamborghini instead like a Toyota Corolla, making him run quick outs and hitches near the LOS rather than letting him run loose down the field and make those combative catches you drafted him to make.
I understand that you can’t go to one receiver every single play (although I would love to test that Madden theory), but the goal of the offense should be to find ways to get your best players in positions to utilize their strengths and make plays. While George Pickens has made some impressive plays in recent weeks and shown his potential star power, the mess that is the Steelers offense is holding him down from what he potentially could be in an offense that would better maximize his strengths as a player. Hopefully, Pickett and Pickens continue to develop more chemistry with one another as Pickett trusts his receiver to make more plays. Still, until his usage changes, Pickens’ upside will be capped.
What are your thoughts on George Pickens’ performance against the Miami Dolphins? Were you happy with what he put on film Sunday night? Do you think that Pittsburgh is holding back Pickens in terms of his potential impact based on the offense they are currently running? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!