It was an interesting and evidently rather frustrating day for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens, who finished today’s game with just one reception for two yards on two receptions. He was visibly upset at multiple stages of the game during the broadcast, at one point showing captain Cameron Heyward coming over to talk to him.
Fellow rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, who threw 26 passes not to Pickens in the direction of nine other targets, was asked about his draft classmate’s frustrations and the lack of targets. “He’s a competitor, man. Of course”, he said understandingly about Pickens’ reaction, via the team’s YouTube.
“We want to get the ball to George”, he said. “What the defense does kind of dictates where the ball goes. Today it was spread around really well, something you want to continue to do, but obviously we want to get the ball in 14’s hands”.
In the three games after the bye prior to today, Pickens was targeted 16 times, catching 10 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown, as well as a two-point conversion. He also had two rushing attempts for 23 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
He now has 512 yards receiving on the season on 37 receptions with two touchdowns, but it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster year. It’s perhaps not going quite as he expected in terms of ball distribution, especially after the Steelers traded former starting wide receiver Chase Claypool during the bye.
But part of the story is Pickett spreading the ball in the passing game. For the second week in a row, he targeted 10 different players on 28 pass attempts. And 28 pass attempts is relatively low. The offense has been more run-heavy since the bye week, so targets in the passing game have been down in general.
But there’s also the issue of a young offense, particularly a young quarterback who did not get starter reps in the offseason and did not start for the first month trying to build that chemistry with his targets in-season. “We’ll continue to work that with Diontae [Johnson] and George and Pat [Freiermuth}”, he said. We have weapons everywhere. Sometimes it’s just kind of how it goes”.
One thing he doesn’t want to do is try to go out of his way to feed one player the ball, something that has come up before, with Johnson not getting as many targets as he might be accustomed to. “You have to keep it in the back of your mind that you want to get guys touches”, he said, “but at the same time, you can’t force things, because obviously that’s when bad things happen if you’re trying to get a guy the ball and the coverage doesn’t dictate that”.
As for Pickens, well, he needs to do a better job of controlling himself. It doesn’t matter how often he thinks he’s open—even when he’s not. He does nobody any favors, especially not himself, by letting it get to him. I can only hope that he grows from this rather than go in the opposite direction.