Pittsburgh Steelers rookie QB Kenny Pickett made his first career NFL start last Sunday in Buffalo against a heavily favorited Bills team that laid the beat down on Pittsburgh 38-3. Pickett and the offense received no favors from the defense who surrendered over 550 total yards to Josh Allen and the Bills offense who had their way with Pittsburgh until they decided to call off the dogs, but Pickett and the offense failed to execute on their end as well. The offense continued to move the ball into the red zone, but once again failed to execute on third downs, settling for field goals in a game that had to become a shootout for any chance of victory.
Pickett’s personal QB coach Tony Racioppi joined 93.7 The Fan Thursday to speak about his mentee’s performance Sunday and was asked what specifically Pickett needs to show Pittsburgh over the course of the next 12 regular season games to prove that he is their guy moving forward rather than being tempted to look into the crop of 2023 NFL Draft QBs like C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young should the wheels continue to fall off in Pittsburgh this season.
“I think he’s already gotten off to a great start from an efficiency standpoint, but I just think between the play on the field and what’s the locker room like?” Racioppi said on 93.7 The Fan about Pickett. “Can you rally a group? Do they look him as the leader, even though he’s 24 and some of those guys are in the late twenties, early thirties. And I think you saw that. I think you see the comments from guys when he was in the huddle. He had command. I mean, it’s all the things that he is.”
Racioppi defended his pupil’s performance against the Bills, stating that he completed 34 of 52 pass attempts, but should have had another eight completions that ended up being dropped by the receivers. After breaking down Pickett’s first start against Buffalo in a film room, I can concur that drops plagued picket and the offense from what would have been a better day at the office for Pittsburgh in terms of converting on third down and putting more points on the scoreboard.
While he had the bad interception against the Bills and was picked of three times in his first game action against the Jets, Racioppi pointed out that two of those picks hit his intended targets right in the face with both passes intended for TE Pat Freiermuth and WR Chase Claypool getting tipped into the air and fell in the hands of the opposing team for the INT.
Overall, there has been a lot to like from Pickett’s first two performances like Racioppi has mentioned that the box score wouldn’t show. He has shown a clear command of the offense and has been unfazed in the pocket, standing in there with the defense coming down on him as he delivers the pass to his intended receivers. He has shown mobility at the QB position which is something that Pittsburgh hasn’t had for years with Ben Roethlisberger, being able to escape the pocket and extend the play or tuck the ball and run himself.
Pickett also has displayed the toughness and fight you want to see in a franchise QB, playing hard till the final whistle despite facing an insurmountable lead and being constantly under duress in attempt to help lead his offense to points.
Still, Pickett has plenty to work on in terms of being more consistent with reads and mechanics as those issues have popped up on tape as well. Regardless, Pittsburgh needs a leader at the QB position, and if Pickett continues to demonstrate those qualities while becoming more consistent at executing on possession downs, Pittsburgh should have no issue giving him the reins for at least another season
“I just think you’re looking for him to just get more comfortable in what they’re asking him to do,” Racioppi continued on Pickett. “And I think he’s going to, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. It’s just can they be more efficient?”