Don’t look now, but the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers… might not be terrible? One way or the other, for the first time this season they have a winning record over a span of multiple games. An actual winning streak has still alluded them (they have a chance for one on Sunday), but they are 2-1 over their last three games. They haven’t been better than 1-2 in any other three-game stretch since the beginning of the year.
A large part of that has to do with the continued growth and maturation of their top two draft picks, quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens, who seem to be good for at least one highlight-worthy hook-up per game. They’ve already got the attention of their opponents in significant ways.
“He’s a very smart player so you can see that growth,” Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said of Pickett yesterday in his pre-game press conference via the team’s website. He pointed to the adjustments that Pickett has made over the course of the year adapting from the college level to the pros, particularly how to navigate behind the line of scrimmage.
“There’s a lot of things that’s happened and I think the thing that goes unnoticed is how different these pockets are from college, that’s the thing you never can replicate in practice,” he said. “It’s easy to throw when no one is at your feet. That’s where the game is so much different in my personal opinion from the college to the NFL.”
This is an area in which Pickett has largely adjusted well, as attested to by his league-leading completion percentage when facing pressure. One thing the Steelers haven’t had to be concerned about in starting him as a rookie has been his poise. And they’re continually finding comfort in his budding relationship with Pickens.
“Talented player, made a big play the other night right there on the sideline that Pickett threw to him, physical player,” Smith said of the rookie receiver. “They’ve got a good group of skill players, it’ll be a challenge and certainly, he’s somebody that you can see that Kenny Pickett’s getting comfortable throwing to and somebody you got to account for.”
Both Pickett and Pickens have a couple of plays from Monday’s game that they’re probably still kicking themselves over wishing that they had back, but that happens to veterans and rookies alike. The perfect game is a myth, but the aspiration is to get closer and closer to it.
The rookies have made strides. It’s showing up on the tape that opposing coaches are going through in preparing to face this Steelers team. That bodes well for the future, but it’s already delivering some pretty good things in the here and now, and that’s what the Falcons have to worry about. Especially since they might not have to play Pittsburgh again until 2026.