Steelers News

Kenny Pickett Says Job Is To ‘Get It To The Guy That’s Open’, Not Worrying About Ball Distribution

There has been a lot of talk recently about ball distribution in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing game, specifically as it concerns their ostensible number one wide receiver Diontae Johnson and his plummeting target count as the season progresses.

Regardless of what stories players or coaches concoct, the simple fact of the matter is that there are a lot of open targets that the offense is missing in Johnson’s direction for one reason or another. By various metrics, he is quite easily among the most consistently open wide receivers in the NFL.

Either way, whether he’s open or not, that means the ball is going elsewhere, and the two most prominent recipients have been second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth and rookie wide receiver George Pickens. Quarterback Kenny Pickett fielded questions about Johnson’s targets and general ball distribution yesterday and explained his philosophy and what defenses must prioritize.

“That’s kind of the game that defenses have to play. Who are you going to take away? Where am I gonna be going with the football with the guys that we have?”, he said, via the team’s website. “My job is to read the defense and get it to the guy that’s open, so that’s what I’m gonna continue to do”.

Of course, Johnson is often the guy that’s open even when he’s not getting the ball. In fact, there probably isn’t another player in the league open more often on plays on which he is not targeted. Que the ‘because Kenny knows he’ll just drop the ball anyway’ comments, because we’ve long since passed the point where any rational conversation about Johnson can be had.

Pickett is a rookie, even if he might not always look it, or always be treated as one. Among the many elements of his game that he is still developing is not locking up on one read and more consistently surveying the entire field. He is very capable of doing this sporadically, but as with any young quarterback, he can get fixated on a route and not see the rest of the field at times.

That should come in time, but while Johnson may be seeing a decline in his opportunities, both Freiermuth and Pickens have done well with theirs—minus a big but uncharacteristic drop from the rookie wide receiver late in Sunday’s game.

Freiermuth now actually leads the team in receiving yards with 482 yards on 44 receptions. Johnson is still second with 456 yards, but Pickens is only three yards behind him, and has been the chunkiest player in the passing game, averaging 13.7 yards per catch.

Pickens only caught four passes on six targets (he should have had a fifth that would have been a deep touchdown), but he still finished the game with 83 receiving yards on Sunday. Freiermuth saw 12 targets, catching eight of them for 79 yards. Running back Najee Harris is beginning to get more looks as well, targeted six times.

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