Steelers Quarterback Passing Locations: Week 18 Vs. Browns

The 2022 season is now in the books, and it’s time to provide my quarterback passing locations charting to wrap a bow on it all. In case you missed the previous articles, I have been 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. A couple of 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 a throwaway and two batted passes removed, unfortunately, both on slant red zone scoring attempts to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who was denied the end zone in yet another game, leading to his new undesirable record of most targeted receiver in a season without a touchdown.

Quarterback Kenny Pickett struggled with accuracy for the majority of this game, going 13/29 on all of his attempts for a 44.8% completion rate that was by far his lowest on the season, though his receivers didn’t help him on a few occasions with three drops. He had 195 passing yards in the game along with a touchdown to wide receiver George Pickens, an explosive 31-yard gain that was the longest touchdown for the offense on the year, coming on a vertical route against a broken coverage from the slot. Another encouraging element to his game was no interceptions, though he had a few dangerous throws. Pickett was only sacked one time as well but had to scramble quite a bit and he largely looked to throw, but a bit hot and cold in my opinion as I’ll highlight today.

A couple of notables in the game, Pickett and the passing offense started the game particularly shaky with 4/5 of his charted first-quarter throws going incomplete. The first was a drop on a quick out by Johnson, and another to him was the originally ruled catch and fumble but thankfully overturned as an incompletion with the throw on the run slightly high. The third was a dangerous throw that was a bit off target into tight coverage on tight end Pat Freiermuth, thankfully only a pass breakup instead of an interception. The final one was a miss to Johnson into double coverage on third down on an overthrow, with the latter being a common theme in the game. Pickett did well on third down, completing 7/10 of his charted throws including 3/3 in the fourth quarter, with two third and eights in a row to tight end Connor Heyward that were big in setting up the team’s final rushing touchdown to put the game away.

Let’s look at a simple view of the 26 charted passes, with number of throws at each pass distance for the season finale:

Right away we can see a big change in the pass distances for week 18, with Pickett encouragingly throwing 34.6% of his passes in the explosive range for the most common distance of the week. To give this rate some recency context, only 12% last week, and only one attempt the prior two games. The first was an example of the aforementioned overthrows, this one to Pickens on an in route on third and 11 sailing way over his head in the shaky first quarter. The next examples were before halftime, starting was another attempt to get Johnson a score, a go ball to the end zone for a near catch on the sideline but broken up, and noted Pickett could have thrown him in bounds a bit more. This one was a great back shoulder throw to Pickens, who displayed great timing to break off his route for the nice catch and 24-yard gain. The following play Pickett went right back to him on consecutive back shoulders, this one was thrown out of bounds, and Pickens showcased incredible body control for the catch, but insanely was not reviewed and goes down as an incompletion, which was infuriating.

Three other explosive examples came in the fourth quarter, the first a slightly overthrown go ball to Pickens on second and ten. A bit later was another overthrow, sailing over Johnson’s head on the corner route out of bounds though he was upset arguing he was held by the corner. The next play was the first of the aforementioned back-to-back Heyward conversions, the first an awesome throw and catch down the seam from the slot, making the catch at 21 yards and providing some YAC off his leap and falling forward to gain 27. The other came in the red zone, a great throw and catch on the slant that got just enough for the first down.

19.2% were in the 5-10 yard range, which was way down from a typical number above 30% for much of the season. One play came in the third quarter, where Pickett sold the play action well then rolls right making a great find late with Johnson coming back to the ball for the catch at the sticks, but loses his balance and a yard after the catch as he went out of bounds. This play was on a red zone opportunity, sliding right and looking for Freiermuth against good coverage across the board, but is able to come back to him as the defender rushes towards him, throwing it along the sideline and unable to get both feet in on the incompletion.

Only 15.4% percent of passes in the 0-5 yard range which tied with behind-the-line passes and 10-15 yard passes for the third most common distance of the week. This is a big change considering the former has been the most common pass distance of the season but fluctuating from 40, 20, and the finale’s 15.4% the last three weeks. The first example was not until late in the third quarter in the red zone on third and three, a quick trigger to Warren in the flat with the necessary YAC to the sideline for the conversion, which was big in setting up the Harris rushing touchdown. The next example started the fourth quarter on a third and ten, with Pickett under duress and gets it to Warren in the flat at one yard along the sideline but it’s dropped on the third down fail.

As mentioned previously, behind-the-line passes tied for the third most common distance at 15.4%. The first example was an antsy dropback from Pickett on second and 14, dumping it off to running back Jaylen Warren two yards behind the line and getting a bit of YAC but only three yards and led to a third down fail. Later in the second quarter, Pickett avoided a sack on third and one, flipping it to Warren on a dangerous wobbly pass, able to corral it at three yards behind the line with tremendous YAC and getting a generous spot to pick up just enough for the first down. An enjoyable play had good backfield action, starting with faking the jet sweep and boot that direction, then rolling left and throwing the flat route to running back Najee Harris who got great YAC ducking/stiff-arming the single defender in front for a gain of ten. The final example came in the fourth quarter, on a nice play-action boot where Pickett threw to Connor Heyward who came across the formation on the flat route and got strong YAC for a nine-yard gain.

15.4% in the 10-15 yard range, which came back to a more typical rate after ballooning in week 17 at 24%. A highlight was early in the game on a nice throw on a scramble drill to Johnson, who worked inside to an open area, then made a great cut inside for explosive YAC on the 32-yard gain for a third and eight conversion and near touchdown all the way to the two-yard line, so close! Another nice example came in the middle of the second quarter on a play-action boot, thrown a bit behind tight end Zach Gentry who was wide open and makes the catch on the over route, adding good YAC for an explosive 23-yard gain. Before halftime, Pickett targeted Johnson on a comeback at 13 yards but was a bit high and went off his hands and broken up incomplete.

7.7% of passes were at 15-20 yards, returning to the bottom of the ranks after an uptick to 16% last week, with 8.6 and 10% rates previously. One of the two examples was a great play that came in the fourth quarter on a third and ten, where Pickens made an insane catch on the low throw with the defender all over him for the conversion. The final example was a high throw but catchable to the back of the end zone to Heyward on a pivot route, unfortunately off his hands incomplete.

Here are the dots for the charted throws for week 18 as we add more context:

A few things jump out right away, and most notable in my opinion is the poor connection rate at five yards or more outside the left hash. Pickett went 1/10 in this range (10%) where many of his accuracy issues came. Pickett fared better outside the right hash, going 10/14 (71.4%) overall. He went 7/11 (63.7%) on or between the numbers, a coming down from a very strong 84.6% completion rate last game, but was a strong 6/7 (85.7%) between the right hash and numbers. Outside the numbers, Pickett went 4/7 (57.1%) to the right and only 2/8 (25%) on the left. In terms of pass distances, Pickett was a much lower 5/8 (62.5%) than his season averages with all of his incompletions going on the left side, but included two drops and Freiermuth unable to get both feet in on the other. At five to ten yards, he went 2/5 (40%), an even lower rate than last week (44.4%). On intermediate passes, Pickett went 3/6 (50%) which was his lowest rate the last three games of the season, previously 55.6 and a strong 77.8%. Only 3/9 on explosives (33.3%), with the two completions between the right hash and numbers the encouraging highlights including the Pickens touchdown, but the overthrows and 1/5 (20%) rate toward the left sideline emphasized on the visual as the negative end of the coin.

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

WOW. What starts out encouraging on the first chart comes to a screeching halt in the completions-only view, with the latter highlighting the previously mentioned lack of connection on the left side of the field, including the longer depth of target and emphasizing the stark difference on each side of the field. Pickett’s most targeted area was to the right from the numbers out at -2 to eight yards, and his highest completed areas narrowing to a much smaller area closer to the numbers, along with a second area between the right hash and numbers further downfield at seven to 17 yards. One of the biggest chart discrepancies I can recall this season, with the data on the right overall encouraging and to the left, woof.

Now let’s look at the 531 charted throws for Pickett and fellow quarterback Mitch Trubisky in 2022:

Explosives encouragingly climbed the leaderboards in the number of throw rankings as expected following this game, surpassing behind-the-line passes, but obviously looking for the connection rate to improve moving forward. Also wanted to point out some interesting spikes at certain pass distances, with nine, 13, and 20-yard passes noticeably increasing compared to the surrounding areas. The most common distance for the 2022 season was 0-5 yards at 33.9%, which came down over a point the last two weeks of the season with deeper throws on average from Pickett.  The second most common this season was 5-10 yard passes at 28.1%, returning to its average following week 16 after an increase to 28.5% last week. The third most common pass distance of 2022 was 10-15 yards, coming in at 16% which matched last week’s average after steadily and encouragingly increasing, particularly in Pickett’s final four games. 13.9% were explosive, coming in as the fourth-ranked distance and increased a whole point from its average the previous two weeks and no attempts the previous game. The fifth most frequent pass distance this season was behind-the-line passes, at 13.6% which only increased 0.1% from last week’s average. The least common was 15-20 yards, coming in at 9.4% which came down 0.1% as well, and previously came in at 9.2 following week 16.

Here are the dots for the entire 2022 season:

On the stat sheet, Pickett ends his 2022 rookie season going 245/389 (63%), which steadily dropped in recent weeks as he threw the ball downfield more (64.4% and 65.2% previously), and ending the season with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Since the bye week, his touchdown to interception ratio was 5/1 though, very encouraging progress these eight games in taking care of the ball as our sights head to 2023, but the team will obviously be looking to score more points as well. In comparison, Trubisky went 117/180 in 2022 for a slightly stronger 65% completion rate which improved in his last two games, along with four touchdowns and five interceptions. No multi-touchdown passing games in 2022 is something that will be on my radar for Pickett’s second season improvement, along with red zone and accuracy down the field.

Speaking of which, let’s see how the 2022 completion rates by pass distances panned out as we wrap a bow on it all. At ten yards or less, Pickett went 202/252 (80.2%), still a strong rate but steadily dropped in recent weeks after his rate in the higher 80’s as he was leading more of a dink and dunk offense. It will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in 2023, considering he will not have the short leash in his second season. In comparison, Trubisky’s 82/107 lands at 76.6% which improved in his last game in week 15. In the intermediate range, Pickett closes the season at 33/80 (41.3%) which improved from 40.5 in the finale and ended the season on a positive trend that hopefully carries over to next season. This was the strongest element to Trubisky’s opportunities in 2022, going 32/49 (65.3%). Pickett’s explosive numbers took a big hit in the finale and close the year out going 18/46 (39.1%) which dropped over a full point from last week (40.5) that had surpassed Trubisky. Instead, the latter comes out with the higher explosive completion rate, going 11/28 (39.3%).

To close, here are the season heat maps of all attempts, completions only, and a pass locations comparison for the quarterbacks on all of 2022’s charted throws:

What are your thoughts of Pickett’s performance against the Browns? What about how the Steelers quarterbacks 2022 performances? How about the outlook for 2023? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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