Pittsburgh is now 5-3, getting the win in another fourth quarter comeback from clutch QB Kenny Pickett against the Titans. For the second season, I am charting, visualizing, and providing takeaways for the all-important quarterback position for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Couple notes before we jump in. Thanks to Thomas Mock for his great work that helped me learn much of what I’m using in the series visually. Spikes and clear throwaways are removed due to being the correct situational decision, along with batted passes at the line-of-scrimmage that effect the intended pass location. This week, a batted pass and throwaway were removed.
Pickett went 19-for-30 (63.3 completion-rate) on the stat sheet for 160 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions or sacks (six pressures), and an 88.2 rating. Was inaccurate on several occasions, particularly in the first half, and showed toughness playing through the rib injury.
Thankfully Pittsburgh’s offense got a faster start with an opening drive touchdown, a ten-yard carry from RB Najee Harris. The run game was much better with 166 yards, including a much better o-line performance, which was the fuel of the improved game on that side of the ball.
Let’s examine the 28 charted passes further, with number of throws at each pass distance this week:
#1. 0-5 air-yards: 50-percent. Dominated the pass distances this week. On the opening-drive, Pittsburgh encouragingly converted their first third down, a crosser to Allen Robinson II with space and YAC for ten yards. Pickett also got the ball to the flat quite often, including an early one to TE Connor Heyward at two air-yards, another plus-YAC play for 11. This play also fit that bill, with WR Diontae Johnson finding open space on a scramble drill (G Isaac Seumalo pushed back), at two air-yards which became 13.
The following drive was a bad three-and-out, with an egregious overthrow to WR George Pickens on the crosser on third-and-eight. The next pass on the following drive was also to Pickens, but unable to connect again on the slant that was broken up, examples of his frustrations this week. They did connect on the red-zone drive before halftime, interestingly from an empty set on second and goal from the eight-yard-line, an in-breaker despite double-coverage for a gain of two. Ultimately settled for a field goal there.
In the second half, Pickett continued to get the ball to the flat, this one an under-center play-action rollout to TE Darnell Washington with YAC and just enough for the first down on second-and-seven. RB Jaylen Warren had a great game, including this pass distance, this example a wheel with eight in YAC, getting a huge chunk back on second and a long 12.
Late in the game, Pickett’s inaccuracy reared its ugly head again on a high pass to Johnson on an out-route. The highlight of the pass distance (and game) was the final pass, a huge go-ahead touchdown to Johnson, who finally ended his scoring drought. Great concept, with the stacked set freeing his pivot route for the easy catch. Awesome.
#2. Behind the Line: 25-percent. The passing game also got good YAC from their playmakers on screens overall, which has been a weakness. Warren got one early, with great blocks from Washington and Robinson out wide, a 9-yard gain to set up second and manageable. In the second-quarter, ran one to Johnson out of pistol with good blocks from T Broderick Jones and Robinson again for eight yards. Right back to a Johnson screen on the back-to-back plays, this one for six on the chain-mover.
Warren had another screen in the third-quarter, able to pick up seven on first down, where Robinson created a land once again. Low-lights were a drop from Harris, and failed screen to Pickens for a loss of three, on his two catch -one yard day. Better results than previous games though, setting up more manageable situations, and contributed to the stronger 50-percent third-down-conversion rate.
#3. 5-10 air-yards: 17.9-percent. To start the fourth-quarter, Pickett made a great (but risky) throw to the sideline, zipping it past the DB to Johnson for six and a third-and-three conversion, encouragingly changing pace with no-huddle as well.
T-fourth. 10-15 air-yards: 7.1-percent. Three-way tie for the final three pass distances. On the second-drive, high-pass from Pickett to Johnson on a stop route on first-and-long (following Jones’ ineligible downfield penalty). Pickett was also terribly low to Robinson on a post-route in the end-zone, a third-and-goal fail and settling for a FG before halftime.
T-fourth. 15-20 air-yards: 7.1-percent. On a third-and-two conversion, a deep-out-route where Johnson threatened single coverage vertically, creating separation on his break, setting Pittsburgh up in the red-zone on the Harris touchdown drive. Another third-and-short in this range, the overturned touchdown to Pickens, who didn’t get his second foot down. Seen him make way more difficult toe-taps along the sideline, unfortunate.
T-fourth. Explosive: 7.1-percent. Only two attempts, one was the severe underthrow to Calvin Austin III on third-and-eight, the same missed play that opened the previous game, taking a hit from a twisting rush that may have affected the accuracy. The other was a great catch and throw, with Johnson showing his hands late to secure the 32-yard gain on the go-ball, setting up the game-winner.
Here are the dots of completions and incompletions for week eight:
Mainly short passing once again. Just six passes past ten air-yards (2-for-6) and one-for-two on explosives. Only six passes in between the numbers (2-for-6), and the longest completion at five air-yards.
A high 78.6-percent of passes were on-outside the numbers, mostly at five air yards or less. 11-of-14 to the right (78.6 completion-rate) including Pickett’s only completions past ten air-yards (19, 28). Six-of-eight on the left (75 completion- rate), with the longest completion just six air-yards, and attempt of 11 air-yards.
Now for the heat maps, with all the charted passes for the game, then completions only (brace yourselves):
The visuals really emphasize how much the short game was relied upon, along with the lack of intermediate success (ten-20 air-yards). Lacking in explosive air-yard volume, particularly painful to see that deep middle target disappear on the completions only view.
Now let’s look at all 245 charted throws this season, with frequencies by distance and previous averages:
#1. 0-5 air-yards: Season 33.5-percent. Previously 31.3-percent.
#2. 5-10 air-yards: Season 24.5-percent. Previously 25.3-percent.
#3. Behind the line: Season 18-percent. Previously 17.1-percent.
#4. 10-15 air-yards: Season 14.3-percent. Previously 15.2-percent.
#5. 15-20 air-yards: Season 11.8-percent. Previously 12.4-percent.
#6. Explosive: Season 10.6-percent. Previously 11.1-percent.
No changes in the ranks from last week. Biggest riser was 0-5 air-yards, and the only other increase was behind the line of scrimmage. Thankfully playmakers had room and the ability to provide YAC, helping the offense move more efficiently than last game. Low-bar, but encouraging positive trend that definitely helped in the win.
Here are dots for all charted throws of 2023, along with completion rates by distance for Pickett:
Behind the line: Season 35/40 (87.5-percent). Previously 29/33 (87.9-percent).
0-5 air-yards: Season 52/71 (73.2-percent). Previously 42/57 (73.7-percent).
5-10 air-yards: Season 35/54 (64.8-percent). Previously 32/49 (65.3-percent).
10-15 air-yards: Season 16/32 (50-percent). Previously 16/30 (53.3-percent).
15-20 air-yards: Season 11/26 (42.3). Previously 10/24 (41.7-percent).
Explosive: Season 8/22 (36.4-percent). Previously 7/20 (35-percent).
All pass distances of 15 air-yards or less declined in completion rates, discouraging with the high volume of passes to those areas in the game, and 10-15 air-yards being the biggest faller. 15-20 and explosive air-yards were the only risers, but only two pass attempts at each distance.
To close, here are heat maps for Pickett’s charted passes, then his completions only:
Encouragingly bit more color on the completions only view, thanks to the go-ball down the right sideline to Johnson at 28-air yards. Hopefully we see more intermediate and explosive volume and success soon, particularly over the middle, with the longest completion since week three still looking very lonely. A win’s a win at the end of the day.
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments.