The Steelers are now back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, facing down a long regular season that looks a lot more promising given how things have gone leading up to it. Finishing just above .500 last year, they anticipate being able to compete with any team in the league this season with second-year QB Kenny Pickett leading the way.
They’ve done a great deal to address what they identified as their shortcomings during the offseason, which included addressing the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary and the inside linebacker room, which is nearly entirely different from last year. The results have been positive so far.
Even well into the regular season and beyond, there are going to be plenty of questions that need answered. When will the core rookies get to play, or even start? Is the depth sufficient where they upgraded? Can they stand toe-to-toe with the Bengals and the other top teams in the league? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout the season, as we have for many years.
Question: Will Kenny Pickett ever “light up the stat sheet”?
QB Kenny Pickett spoke to reporters on Wednesday following a game—a win, granted, during which they rushed for over 200 yards—in which he completed 14 of 23 passes for 126 yards. He said that he would like to “light up the stat sheet”, but that winning takes precedence over personal numbers.
On the face of it, it’s the right thing to say, but it does raise other issues. For starters, it suggests that Pickett putting up numbers—which would require putting more of the offense on his shoulders and the passing game—would not be the mode for this offense most conducive to winning.
That’s what a franchise quarterback is supposed to do, but the Steelers have actively avoided branding Pickett with that label. They’ve even seemingly gone out of their way to suggest that they can’t overload his plate and don’t expect to depend on him to outduel the big-gun quarterbacks.
But can you even be a franchise quarterback in the sense that is generally understood without having the capability to win high-scoring games with relative consistency? At least at this point in his career, it’s fair to question if that sort of game is in Pickett’s future, and if the Steelers believe in it.
That doesn’t mean he and the team can’t be successful. Their priority has been ball security as far as the offense goes, and possession. In recent weeks, they have continued to improve in maintaining possession. They had four drives of four-plus minutes against the Packers and against the Titans the game before as well.
Playing keep-away and allowing their defense to remain on the sideline is the model that worked for them at the end of last season. Extended drives that limit the total number of possessions for either side during a game.
But wouldn’t it be nice to have a quarterback who can mount a significant comeback when it’s needed again? Consider this: the Steelers are 0-6 in games that Pickett has started in which the opposing team scored 20-plus points, without defensive assistance of multiple touchdowns. Sunday’s win against Green Bay in which the Packers put up 19 points is the most an opponent has ever scored in which Pickett’s offense put up more points.