It doesn’t take a football lifer to know how Kenny Pickett’s come up large for the Pittsburgh Steelers the last two fourth quarters. Leading game-winning drives against the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, Pickett’s played his best ball with the season on the line and when the Steelers needed him the most. Down the stretch, the offense is helping the defense and vice versa. Standing on the sidelines watching Pickett work last night, OLB Alex Highsmith can’t help but be impressed.
“Especially these past two games,” Highsmith told reporters via Steelers.com Monday. “You can see it in him. He’s got the competitor’s edge. He’s getting better and better every week. It’s cool seeing him as a rookie stepping up and being a leader for us and running the offense like that.”
Pickett led the Steelers down the field on Christmas Eve to knock off the Raiders, hitting George Pickens for the game-winning score. Last night, he did the same, marching downfield and finding Najee Harris with under a minute to go. Combined, Pickett has a near-perfect passer rating on those two drives with just one more incompletion than he has touchdowns.
But his play goes beyond the numbers. Pickett has made high-level throws from within and outside of the pocket. He’s played inside structure and crucially worked outside of it. Pickett’s been able to keep his eyes downfield and make plays on the move, making smart decisions without being too risk-adverse.
While the Steelers’ offense hasn’t put up big points, they’ve helped Highsmith and the defense by staying on the field. Even in last night’s game, one Pittsburgh trailed throughout, the Steelers won the time of possession battle by nearly nine minutes and out-snapped the Ravens 70-50. That makes a defense fresher and more effective and one reason why Pittsburgh’s allowed just three second half points over their last two games and 15 over their last four.
As we wrote about earlier in the year, even before Pickett’s game-winning plays, he’s shown himself as a quality leader for a young offense desperate for leadership. But Pickett is doing more than leading through words alone. It’s through action, his play, and that’s perked up since the bye week. Something that was expected, more reps usually leads to better play as rookies go through predictable early struggles. Now, Pickett and this whole offense is working their way through the other side and reaping the rewards. They have to do it one more week, and get some help, to keep their season alive.