While NFL Films executive producer Greg Cosell may have been harsh on Najee Harris during his appearance on One Bills Live, he did have some good things to say about rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, and specifically his ability to target receivers in one-on-one matchups.
“He’s got mobility, and the other thing that really stood out to me, and this is what you have to do in the league, is he threw to the one-on-ones. That was not a problem for him,” Cosell said. “A lot of quarterbacks are used to throwing to receivers who are open in college football, and they have to learn that if it’s one-on-one, even if your receiver appears to be covered, you have to make those throws in this league. And I think he has an innate sense of that.”
Pickett certainly did a good job of finding those one-on-one matchups and targeting receivers in those situations. In particular, he made a couple of nice back-shoulder throws to wide receiver George Pickens, a fellow rookie. Taking advantage of one-on-one matchups also helps the offense get vertical and picks up chunk yardage. Pickett had 8.8 completed air yards per completion on Sunday, which reflects his ability to throw downfield and pick up chunk yardage.
When receivers are wide open, it’s either a result of blown coverage or running short drag routes, zigs or an occasional slant. It’s rare receivers are able to find themselves wide open in the NFL, at least to the extent they do in college, and it’s clear Pickett recognizes that and is able to make some throws in one-on-one coverage.
Sometimes, those throws don’t pan out, like the first throw of his career to Chase Claypool that was picked off, although I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Claypool could’ve made a better effort to high-point the ball and not allow 5’8 Lamarcus Joyner to tip it and force the interception. But in the NFL, one-on-one throws are usually as open as you can get, especially down the field.
The Steelers’ dink-and-dunk offense they’ve employed for the large majority of the past few seasons has taken full advantage of the drag routes and sideline out routes that can get you open, but the upside is typically a small gain and leaves the team needing to convert on third and medium. If Pickett is able to air the ball out a little bit more and not shy away from throwing it to guys with one-on-one coverage, and take a chance with a few 50-50 balls, this Steelers’ offense is going to be better for it.