As if there were any doubt, the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed yesterday that rookie Kenny Pickett would be their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, making the change initially at halftime during Sunday’s game.
“When we make decisions, we don’t anticipate blowing in the wind”, Tomlin told reporters yesterday during his pre-game press conference when asked if there had to be a steadfast decision when it comes to installing a first-round pick into the quarterback position, via the team’s website. But just because he’s the new golden boy doesn’t mean he’ll get special treatment.
“He’s a young guy and he’s going to grow throughout this process, but make no mistake about it, we’re not grading him on a curve”, he said, via the team’s website. “He’s not grading himself on a curve. There’s an expectation of quality play and playing to win”.
They didn’t win for him on Sunday, though he shares only so much of the blame. After all, he did score two touchdowns on his own, even if one of those scoring drives began inside the five-yard line. Outside of the turnovers, which were of course significant, it was about the best the offense has looked this month.
The offense under Mitch Trubisky scored exactly four touchdowns in 15 quarters’ worth of play through the first three and a half games (recall that the first game featured a full-length overtime period). He threw touchdown passes to running back Najee Harris in week one and tight end Pat Freiermuth in week two, and ran one in against the Cleveland Browns in week three. He did not lead a touchdown drive during his half of play on Sunday.
The offense managed eight first downs on seven first-half possessions under Trubisky. Pickett had just five possessions in the second half, but managed to pick up 12, plus two touchdowns. Not a single one of his drives—not even the two-play final drive that ended in a Hail Mary interception—failed to move the chains at least once, compared to three drives in the first half.
And that’s not a mild concern. The Steelers were the second-worst offense in the league in producing three-and-out drives on offense going into Sunday’s game, and perhaps by halftime they were even the worst. The play with Pickett, then, was a stark difference, which is exactly what Tomlin wanted.
“I thought he provided a spark for us. I thought we moved it more fluidly. I thought we put some points on the board”, he said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the perfect half of play. We turned the ball over some, you can’t do that”.
Indeed, all five of Pickett’s drives ended either in the end zone or in the hands of the New York Jets. Outside of holding for extra points, punter Pressley Harvin III got the second half off. Another statistic worth noting: all of Pickett’s drives ended in opponent territory. Four of Trubisky’s ended inside his own 35.