On the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game-winning touchdown of Sunday’s win over the Baltimore Ravens, QB Kenny Pickett put questions to rest about his ability to read and make checks at the line. On his touchdown to WR George Pickens, he checked the protection using the audible “Randy” at the line of scrimmage, presumably for sliding the protection to the right, taking a deep shot down the right sideline and connecting on the go-ahead touchdown in a 17-10 win for the Steelers over the Baltimore Ravens.
Turns out, the Baltimore Ravens were the predictable, easy-to-ready ones in this matchup, at least late.
During film study in the week leading up to the matchup against the Ravens at Acrisure Stadium, the Steelers and Pickett saw that they used Cover Zero against the Indianapolis Colts quite a bit with a young quarterback in Week Three and had a ton of success heating up Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew, who didn’t handle the Cover Zero look all that well.
Cover Zero is pretty explanatory. It’s an all-out blitz designed to get quick pressure while the secondary plays man-coverage, 1-on-1 on the back end. Specifically, they are on an island. No safety help over the top, no zone help, nothing.
The Ravens didn’t exactly hide it all, not that they were even trying to.
Knowing how the Colts struggled with it and how the Ravens like to use it late in games, Pickett was able to see Cover Zero coming on the deciding play and the Steelers got into the right play to counter it, which included Calvin Austin III on a slot fade from the left side with Allen Robinson running a quick stop. On the right, Pickens ran a go route, finding himself in a 1-on-1 situation against Baltimore veteran cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who was just returning to the lineup on Sunday for the first time all season.
As you can see in the photo above, the Ravens were crowding the line of scrimmage on the 2nd and 9 from the 41 yard line. According to Next Gen Stats, the Ravens had eight defenders in the box with the deepest defender on the field for Baltimore 4.5 yards off the football.
No safety help over the top, all three corners in Humphrey over Pickens, Brandon Stephens over Robinson and Arthur Maulet on Austin were all in man coverage. Pickett read it quickly, helped get the offensive line into the right protection quickly with plenty of time on the play clock and then let loose a beautiful pass down the right sideline that hit Pickens in stride for six points, a double-explosive play, and a lead late in the game.
After being up and down throughout the game passing the football, Pickett came to life at the perfect time for the Steelers offense. On that touchdown drive he was 4-of-6 for 78 yards, having previously hit Pickens on a 21-yard pass down the left sideline on 3rd and 4 two plays earlier.
He’s talked all offseason and through the first four weeks of the season of when he sees Pickens in 1-on-1 matchups he’s always going to give his guy a shot. He saw this one pretty quickly, made his best throw of the game when it mattered most and helped lead the Steelers to a much-needed victory.
It helped that Humphrey gave Pickens a free, clean release off the line of scrimmage. As Pickens told Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio after the game on Football Night in America, Humphrey “opened the gate” for Pickens, who ran right through it, into the win column.
Heck of a job by the offensive line in pass protection, too, after the check. Everyone held up well, and running back Jaylen Warren did a great job getting across Pickett’s face at the snap to chip in with tight end Connor Heyward on Baltimore’s Patrick Queen, giving Pickett a clean pocket to drop the pass right into Pickens’ bread basket.
Pickett and the Steelers knew that the Ravens were going to go to that look in big spots. As he said after the game to reporters in his press conference, the Steelers were preparing for moments like that when Baltimore went Cover Zero. They did it earlier in the game and got a hit on Pickett.
This time though, Pickett hit back with the strike to Pickens, giving the Steelers the lead, and most importantly a win, ripping Baltimore’s heart out late for the second straight game.
After not being able to take many shots down the sideline in recent weeks as the passing game was struggling to get into the gear, the Steelers corrected that problem on Sunday — and then some.