For much of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have relied on their defense to keep the score down, allowing a struggling offense to put together a drive late in games to engineer victory. The Steelers have won all six of their games by one possession as the defense managed to hold the opposing offense under 20 points or created splash plays to turn the momentum in favor of the offense, or simply got the ball into the end zone themselves.
Still, despite being 10 games into the 2023 season, a true leader has yet to emerge on the offensive side of the football for Pittsburgh. Former Steelers CB Bryant McFadden brought that topic with current Steelers CB Patrick Peterson having him name of several names on the defensive side of the ball that he would consider leaders and then asked him to do the same on the offensive side of the ball.
“That’s a good question, Mac” Peterson responded to McFadden on All Things Covered, which aired on the show’s YouTube channel. “They gotta find that guy, man. You probably think about this as well. Like this is not an excuse. Like we have, on the offensive side of the ball, there’s not very many guys that really played a ton of football and really had an opportunity to lead a room. And they haven’t had many guys to really show them how to lead a room.
“So I feel like if that’s my job to do a better job at giving Kenny [Pickett] nuggets on how to grab the bull by the horn, although I’d never been on the offensive side of the ball. But maybe giving him some nuggets on how to galvanize the troops, how to get the troops together, how to get everybody to buy in to what the hell what coach want to call or his philosophy because we’re right there, man.”
It’s disappointing when a player like Peterson, who is a vested veteran and has served as a team leader during his time with the Cardinals and Vikings prior to coming to Pittsburgh, can’t instantly answer McFadden’s question of who the team’s offensive leader is by saying QB Kenny Pickett’s name. The thought coming into the season was that Pickett had seized control of that leadership role, being named the outright offensive captain by his peers. HC Mike Tomlin called it a demonstration of the respect and regard the team has for Pickett and the leadership he had shown during the offseason and down the stretch in 2022.
However, with the Steelers at the halfway point this season, Pickett’s leadership has been in question. He’s managed to come alive in the fourth quarter to construct some comeback victories, displaying leadership qualities in the clutch. However, the young quarterback hasn’t been a guy who has necessarily picked his teammates up on the field. McFadden pointed this out after the team’s loss to the Browns last Sunday, expecting the team’s hopeful franchise quarterback to do a better job of rallying the troops on the sidelines and providing a calming presence on the field rather than looking rattled himself.
To Pickett’s defense, he really hasn’t had someone teach him to be a leader as he has competed for the starting job with QBs Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, who haven’t really ever held that role themselves. RB Najee Harris was recognized as one of the team’s leaders on offense, but his reduced role on the field has seemed to impact this during the 2023 season. WR Diontae Johnson is more of a quiet guy who leads by example along with OGs Isaac Seumalo and James Daniels. C Mason Cole has been a positive presence in the locker room, but really isn’t someone you would turn to as the vocal leader of the team.
The reality is, Pittsburgh needs Pickett to be that guy. He was drafted to be that guy. He is expected to be that guy as the quarterback of the offense. Sure, Peterson and other team leaders like OLB T.J. Watt and DL Cameron Heyward can help him along, but Pickett must show he can take the reins and lead this offense as its commanding presence in the huddle and on the sideline. It might only be Year Two for the young passer, but he’s got to show he’s capable of filling this role, otherwise Pittsburgh may have to look elsewhere for a franchise quarterback who is.