The record for the most pass attempts in a rookie quarterback’s first ever start is 55, according to Pro Football Reference, the distinction belonging to Sam Bradford, who completed 33 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in a losing 13-17 effort.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kenny Pickett came close to it in the first start of his career yesterday, throwing the ball 52 times, something that he knows is not sustainable, and was not a part of the gameplan. Not that they had much other choice.
“We’re one-dimensional, we’re throwing all the time once we got down”, he said in his post-game press conference via the team’s website. “We’ve got to figure it out as players to stay ahead of the chains and not put us in those situations where they know we’re throwing and execute. And we had some penalties and a lot of things that we’ve got to clean up”.
Pickett completed 34 of his 52 attempts after going 10-for-13 in the second half last week in his NFL debut, throwing for 327 yards. He failed to lead the offense to a single touchdown, however, and he did throw one interception, which was clearly a bad play. He also took three sacks, some of which were on him.
But when you compare that to just 17 total rushing attempts—one of which was a quarterback scramble—the reality is that something went wrong. And part of the problem is the simple fact that the run game wasn’t working.
Najee Harris’ first run lost two yards, setting up a 3rd and 11. Pickett converted that with a 12-yard connection to George Pickens. Later in the drive, Harris picked up four yards on first down and then lost one on second down, another 3rd and long, this time resulting in an incompletion, forcing them to settle for a field goal on their opening drive—and their only points.
Their next drive opened with a three-yard run by Harris, but the entire possession was sabotaged by a holding penalty on second down. Between another pair of touchdowns, the first-round back opened the drive with two one-yard runs to set up an incompletion—a dropped pass by Diontae Johnson—on 3rd and 8.
3rd and 11. 3rd and 8. 3rd and 6. 3rd and 8. 3rd and 9. 3rd and 6. 3rd and 8. 3rd and 15. 3rd and 10. 3rd and 10. 3rd and 6. That’s 11 third-down situations facing five or more yards to gain. Out of 15 total third-down situations that Pickett faced in his debut. It’s been a theme long before Pickett.
That’s no way to help your quarterback. Now, not every one of them was set up by a failure in the running game, but facing long possession downs and staring down a lopsided scoreboard with a generally ineffective running game, it’s clear to see how and why Pickett’s debut start became a one-dimensional affair. It’s not something they can afford to repeat.