Rookie Report – Steelers vs Raiders

Throughout the season following each game I will be taking a look at the rookies and how they fared each week. This will consist of thoughts such as the positive and negatives from that game, areas to watch or work on and clips to support what I’m sharing. Hopefully, this will shed some insight on some things you may or may not have seen.

Week 16 – Las Vegas Raiders

Active Players

#8 Kenny Pickett (Round 1) – 68 offensive snaps, 26-39, 244 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 66.7 Comp%, 5.62 AY/A,  3 carries, 9 yards

It’s not always how you start, but how you finish. For nearly the entire game the offense was stagnant. They settled for field goal attempts and were unable to put points on the board. The offense took nearly 59 minutes to get into the red zone.

The cold didn’t seem to affect the play of Pickett. The gloved quarterback was able to put zip on the ball and find his receivers on the short area passes. The majority of his passes were once again outside the numbers. The interception came on a poor decision to make a throw to the left after reading right.

He was leaving clean pockets too early taking away opportunities at throws downfield. Against zone coverages, he too often took the check down early rather than letting his receivers work the empty spots in the zone. His best anticipation throw was on a dig route to Diontae Johnson that was high and behind him. There was a similar play later in the game that was dropped by Johnson.

Prior to the touchdown drive, Pickett was 19 of 30 for 169 and an interception. Rather pedestrian. On the touchdown drive, he was able to execute with check downs and a couple of nice throws and find the end zone. He took what the defense gave him underneath and had a couple of scrambles to his right to find Pat Freiermuth on the game-winning drive.

2022 Regular Season Totals – 661 offensive snaps, 217-333, 2,041 yards, 5 TD, 9 INT, 65.2 Comp%, 5.2 AY/A, QBR 46.8, 24 sacks, 161 yards, 47 carries, 234 yards, 3 TD, 5.0 YPC, 3 fumbles

#14 George Pickens (Round 2) – 55 offensive snaps, 5 targets, 5 receptions, 57 yards, 11.4 YPR, 1 D

Pickens was on the receiving end of that game-winning touchdown. He had a solid game overall and part of that starts with his route tree.

For this game, the diversity was back. He wasn’t asked to continually just run downfield. The Fade was his most common route (7) but the Curl (5), Deep Curl (4) and Comeback (4) were also prevalent. He was targeted five times and caught all five.

The first target was on a Slant. A route they don’t utilize nearly enough. It was a short gain and he was tackled immediately. His next target came on a back shoulder Fade.  He and Pickett have shown a nice connection on these throws. He was able to add eight yards after the catch. Next was a Comeback route that also had zero yards after the catch. Catch number four was on a Curl route. Another throw with no chance for YAC but at least they targeted him more. The final catch was the touchdown. It came on a Skinny Post. Pickens pressed the route to the outside nicely allowing him to break inside to create plenty of space.

2022 Regular Season Totals – 785 offensive snaps, 2 special teams snaps, 74 targets, 47 receptions, 700 yards, 14.9 YPR, 3 TD, 3 carries, 24 yards, 1 TD, 8.0 YPC, 3 drops

#98 DeMarvin Leal (Round 3) – 9 defensive snaps, 2 special teams snaps

The defense employed some different looks with four down linemen and four linebackers on the field at the same time. Six of his nine snaps were as an edge player. Just three of the snaps were running plays.

Against the pass, there was just no production from Leal.  He’s not getting a push on defenders. His hand usage is extremely limited. He did try a stab move and a spin move rushing from the inside without success. Nothing he is doing is putting any stress on the offensive lineman blocking him.

Of his three running plays, the first was his best. While on the right edge he got an impressive push on the tight end to shove him into the backfield to cut off the running lane. The result was a three-yard loss. He filled the gap while running with the motion man on a run that broke outside. It was called back due to an offensive penalty and was the turning point in the game.  On his final play, he was on the backside of a run away from him.

Leal has been asked to do more things this year including helping on the edge. With a lot on his plate, maybe the development of his pass rush has suffered. It is something he really needs to improve on.

Here is the nice edge set by Leal pushing the tight end into the backfield to blow up the run. Love the acknowledgment by Alex Highsmith recognizing the play Leal made.

2022 Regular Season Totals – 133 defensive snaps, 31 special teams snaps, 9 tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL, 3 pass breakups

#83 Connor Heyward (Round 6) – 13 offensive snaps, 15 special team snaps, 3 targets, 1 carry, 21 yards, 1 solo tackle

Heyward was the recipient of the game-clinching call on a jet sweep. It was a play they had not run this season with him and had shown the motion of Heyward in that formation just once before. Heyward has some versatility in his game and will do all that is asked of him. Also, worth noting on that run, he stayed in bounds to keep the clock moving.

In the passing game, he ran five routes in his 13 plays. They included two shallow Crosses, Flat, In and Smash routes. He was targeted three times but never had a chance to catch any of them. Two were throws by Pickett with a defender in his face. The second ended up being intercepted. The other target came on an In route but was knocked down at the line of scrimmage.

In the run game, Heyward had a very successful showing as a blocker. He made three cut blocks while sliding across the formation to open up running holes. On another slide block, he read the edge defender who is his initial target. They got too deep in the backfield so he pivoted inside to pick up the linebacker. A very smart read and block execution by the rookie.  On a one-on-one block with Maxx Crosby, he showed good sustain and got a nice push on him.  He definitely made strides this week as a blocker.

Heyward also contributed the tackle on the opening kickoff limiting the return of the short kick to 12 yards.

Some of the impressive blocks by Heyward.

2022 Regular Season Totals – 137 offensive snaps, 256 special teams snaps, 13 targets, 9 receptions, 106 yards, 11.8 YPR, 1 TD, 1 carry, 21 yards, 8 tackles, 3 solo

#30 Jaylen Warren (UDFA) – 21 offensive snaps, 7 special team snaps, 6 carries, 23  yards, 2 targets, 1 reception, 7 yards

Warren had another Warren-like game. He did a little bit of everything for the offense and has become a rather consistent part of the offense.

As a runner, he was given six opportunities.  The first two canceled each other out. After a two-yard gain on his first run, he lost two yards on a toss play to the outside. His next carry was the most productive. Using impressive blocks from the left side of the line and Mason Cole hustling to the second level he produced a 15-yard gain. After that was a sweep to the right that got four more yards toward the sideline. On his final two carries, he was able to muscle out a couple of yards on each.

In the passing game, he spent a lot of time chipping the Raiders’ pass rushers on the edge and had another couple of nice blitz pickups. As a receiver he was used on Swing, Flat and Crease routes along with a swing Screen that was called back by an offensive penalty. His lone reception came after a chip on the left side where he leaked out to the crease to help a scrambling Pickett. The play gained seven yards. His other target came on a swing pass that was high and behind him.

2022 Regular Season Totals – 283 offensive snaps, 109 special teams snaps, 59 carries, 267 yards, 4.5 YPC, 1 TD, 26 targets, 22 receptions, 185 yards, 8.4 YPR, 1 fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 2 drops, 4 tackles, 3 solo

Inactive for Week 2 – #93 Mark Robinson (Round 7)

 Practice Squad – #68 William Dunkle (UDFA PHI), #87 Rodney Williams (UDFA DEN), #96 David Anenih (UDFA TEN)

 Reserve/Injured – #19 Calvin Austin (Round 4), #30 Carlins Platel (UDFA)

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