Steelers Quarterback Passing Locations: Week 17 Vs. Ravens

Week 17 is in the books, and it’s time to provide my quarterback passing locations charting for the game and the regular season thus far. In case you missed the previous articles, I will be charting, visualizing, and providing takeaways for the all-important quarterback position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to Thomas Mock for his great article that helped me learn much of what I’m using today. Couple notes before we jump in. All yardage referenced are air yards from the line of scrimmage and bats at the line of scrimmage, spikes, and clear throwaways removed. This week’s charting has two batted passes removed.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett was very accurate in the game that only required 27 total pass attempts thanks to a great outing in the run game, going 15/27 (55.6%) though with some bad breaks in terms of connection on the receiving end. Pickett led a great long final drive in the second consecutive week when it mattered most, highlighted by four straight completions (longest streak of the game), including back-to-back explosive passes that were incredibly timely and amazingly refreshing to see. Very encouraging performance overall in route to 168 passing yards and a touchdown that came on his final attempt in the red zone for the second straight week, eluding pressure and sliding left as he directed running back Najee Harris vertically towards the end zone, with a great throw over the defender along the sideline for the go-ahead score. He did a great job throughout the game eluding pressure and extending plays including several big-time throws, after starting the game a bit antsy, and was sacked twice. He also converted three quarterback sneaks for fresh sets of downs, and went 7/12 (58.3%) on third down charted passes.

Let’s look at a simple view of the 25 charted passes, with number of throws at each pass distance for week 17:

Right away we see an encouraging change in the pass distances, with Pickett pushing the ball further down the field. This is highlighted by a return of five-ten yard passes being the most common pass distance, 36% this week compared to 31.4% last week and 35% previously. One example was on a third down on the teams opening drive in the red zone, splitting four receivers to the left and isolating wide receiver George Pickens to the other side in a favorable matchup against a backup cornerback, but unfortunately Pickett’s accurate jump ball throw was broken up in the end zone. Another example was in the second quarter on second and 17, finding wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a stop route and encouragingly providing five more in YAC to set up third and manageable. This example came on third and three late in the second quarter, zipping an accurate throw to tight end Pat Freiermuth on a slant, but was defended well and broken up. Late in the third quarter on another third and short, Pickett was hit as he threw by a free rusher off the edge, but able to get the pass out falling slightly behind Johnson and incomplete. The highlight in this range was a nice throw on third and four in the fourth quarter to Johnson on a comeback, who then eluded the defender for great YAC, getting down the sideline for an explosive gain of 21.

Another encouraging change in the pass distances, with the second most common being 10-15 yards at 24%, which was the highest rate since way back in week three giving context to his deeper targets overall. The first example came in the second quarter on third and short, eluding a free rusher leading to a scramble drill and nice throw to Pickens on the sideline for the would-be completion, but unfortunately went out of bounds prior to the catch on the loss of down incompletion. This play falls in the near completion category as well, with another strong throw on the run on a back shoulder to Johnson, but unable to secure the near spectacular play before going out of bounds. One of the highlights came mid third quarter on third and a long 14, where Pickens ran an in route at the sticks, throwing it where only he could go up and make the play, and boy did he with an amazing leaping and extended catch for just enough to move the chains.

Typically 0-5 yards is the most common pass distance, this week ranking third and coming in at only 20%, with the rate cut in half compared to last week (40%) and 35% the previous game. The first attempt in this range came on third and two early in the game, where Pickett was a bit antsy in the pocket, and does a great job resetting his feet and got it to running back Jaylen Warren on the dump off, making a good cut around the linebacker at the catch point for healthy YAC on the gain of ten. Also in the first quarter on a red zone opportunity, Pickett was a bit antsy again leading to a scramble drill and directs Harris toward the end zone, then throwing back shoulder but a bit low though catchable, off his hands incomplete along the sideline.

16% of passes were 15-20, typically the bottomed ranked distance (8.6 and 10% the last two games) and yet another encouraging boost to the distances this week. One example came on the first attempt of the fourth quarter, doing a great job stepping up in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield, finding Pickens on the sideline with his throw on the run a bit low, but goes down and makes a great catch for the 15-yard gain. Another was a missed opportunity in the red zone on third down, where wide receiver Steven Sims ran a vertical route to the end zone, and the throw is short and flies of bounds. The final example was also an end zone target from the red zone, with Johnson running a double move to try and surprise the plus matchup against the backup cornerback, with the pass slightly overthrown and goes off his outstretched hand incomplete.

12% explosive this week, with an uptick in attempts with three compared to only one the previous two games. All three of them came in the fourth quarter, starting with a great throw on a go ball to Johnson, originally ruled a catch on the sideline for a stellar play but unfortunately overturned upon review. The other two were the back-to-back plays on the final drive mentioned earlier, starting with an impressive one rolling out to his left and finding Freiermuth on the scramble drill over the middle, who went down to make a solid contested grab for a 20-yard gain. The following play was an amazing throw over the defender to Sims, who got up the seam and made the leaping explosive grab between the hashes (what a rarity in 2022) for the fantastic 28-yard gain and getting Pittsburgh in the red zone for the go-ahead opportunity. 12% were also behind the line, tying for the least common pass distance of the week after coming in with the second rank at 20% last game. One example came on a third and four in the third quarter, checking it down to Warren in the flat who was able to gain six yards for the conversion with solid YAC.

Here are the dots for the charted throws for week 17 as we add more context:

With more visual context, we get an even greater sense of the more varied passes from Pickett in this game. On or between the number passes jump out right away in a positive light, going 11/13 for a strong 84.6% completion rate including a perfect 4/4 at ten yards or more. This is such an encouraging development compared to his lackluster results in this regard for much of the season, and of course can’t wait to see if this continues in the 2022 season finale and moving forward in his second year. Outside the numbers was a different story, going 4/12 (33.3%) with all of his attempts to the right near the sideline. In terms of distances, Pickett was his typical self at five yards or less, going 7/8 (87.5%) with his one incompletion on the left sideline. Though five-ten yard passes were more frequent this week, he had a lower 44.4% completion rate in this range, a stark difference compared to 81.8% in week 16. On intermediate passes, Pickett went 5/9 (55.6%) connecting on a lower rate than his strong 77.8% completion rate last week on the same number of attempts. The most encouraging improvement was his 66.7% completion rate on his three explosive attempts, and the timely manner in which the two completions came in route to victory.

Now for the heat maps, first with all the charted passes for the game, then completions only:

Great to see the lack of drop off to the deep middle, but we get great visual context to the misses outside the numbers as mentioned earlier, particularly on two incompletions to the left at 15+ yards affecting the completions heat map the most. Pickett’s most targeted area was outside the right numbers at seven-14 yards, and we see a bigger change than usual on this highest completed area, which was also to the right from the hash to the numbers but at a shorter distance of -4 to two yards. This data is very telling and emphasizes the improvement and increased targets in the middle of the field, and slight uptick of connection on the encouraging increase in depth of target overall, though there is still room for improvement obviously.

Now let’s look at the 505 charted throws on the season for Pickett and fellow quarterback Mitch Trubisky in 2022:

The ranking order of this season’s pass distances remains the same as last week, when behind the line passes surpassed explosives. The most common pass distance is still 0-5 yards, at 34.9% which is a downtick as expected following this week from 35.6 through week 16. 28.5% from 5-10 now, which obviously increased after being week 17’s most common pass distance, previously at 28.1 and on a positive trend since the last two weeks. 10-15 yard passes are now at 16%, encouragingly increasing from 15.6 previously and improving from 14.9% in Pickett’s previous two opportunities. Behind the line passes surpassed explosives last week, and are now at 13.5%. 12.9% of passes have been explosive, matching last week’s average after dropping a full point with no attempts the previous game. The least common pass distance on the season has been 15-20 yards, which is now at 9.5%, slightly increasing from a 9.2 average following week 16.

Here are the dots for the 2022 season through week 17:

On the stat sheet, Pickett is now 232/306 for a 64.4% completion rate, which dropped from a previous average of 65.2%, along with six passing touchdowns and nine interceptions. In comparison, Trubisky is 117/180 for a slightly stronger 65% completion rate which improved in his last two games, along with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Hoping the season finale can be an opportunity to improve and achieve a few things to close out the season, starting with the touchdown to interception ratio as Pickett was able to do against the Ravens, hopefully in route to the teams first multi-touchdown game of 2022, along with more red zone trips that improved this week, but fingers crossed cashing in on them more in the end zone.

In terms of pass distances, Pickett is now 195/240 (81.3%) at ten yards or less, which dropped 0.4 points from his previous average and on a down trend the past two weeks. In comparison, Trubisky’s 82/107 lands at 76.6% which improved in his last game in week 15. In the intermediate range, Pickett is now 30/74 (40.5%) a slight improvement from his previous average and on a positive trend of late, inching closer to Trubisky’s much stronger 32/49 (65.3%). Pickett is now 15/37 on explosive attempts, also improving by over two points for a 40.5% completion rate that matches his mark on intermediate passes and surpassed Trubisky this week, who is 11/28 (39.3%) this season. Great to see Pickett improve his rates downfield across the board, very encouraging and obviously hope he finishes the season out strong in this regard as well.

To close, here are the season heat maps of all attempts, completions only, and a pass locations comparison for the quarterbacks on all charted throws for the season:

What are your thoughts of Pickett’s performance against the Ravens? What about how the Steelers quarterbacks have compared to date? How do you think things will play out in the final game of the season and moving forward? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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