Not everyone is ready to throw in the towel on Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett. Former NFL head coach Chuck Pagano believes Pickett has the talent to succeed in the NFL. If the confines of the offense will let him. In a video for The 33rd Team posted Monday morning, Pagano said the central issue is the offense being too conservative with Pickett and not letting him take chances downfield.
“Kenny Pickett seems like a guy who is more than capable to me,” Pagano said. “I think he’s got the arm talent. I think he processes well. I think his accuracy is fine. He’s got weapons on the outside. They’ve just got him on such a short leash. They’ve got a good defense, they take the ball away at a high rate…they’ve got to let this guy go a little bit and throw the ball down the field some.”
— The 33rd Team (@The33rdTeamFB) November 20, 2023
Pushing the ball downfield was apparently Pittsburgh’s intent. Before the game, WR Diontae Johnson told NFL Network that Mike Tomlin’s game plan was to push the ball on the outside, expecting to see man coverage from the Browns’ top corners. After the game, Pickett confirmed that the Steelers’ game plan was built around expecting man coverage. Instead, Cleveland played softer zone and it wrecked Pittsburgh’s approach as the Steelers did not adjust well.
As Pagano later said, neither team attempted to push the ball downfield in this game. Cleveland was just as conservative, though the Browns had the better excuse of starting a fifth-round rookie quarterback making his second career start. The Browns played it safe, spread the field out horizontally, and tried to create easy reads Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Still, their passing game did little until the final drive, hurt by drops and a couple of poor throws.
For Pittsburgh, Pagano didn’t see Pickett having much of a chance to succeed.
“You’ve gotta give Kenny Pickett an opportunity,” he said
It’s no secret what the Steelers’ approach is and has been since the latter half of 2022, post-bye week. Run the ball, take great care of the ball, and play solid defense. In fairness, it’s gotten results. Since the bye last year, Pittsburgh is 13-6. But it’s not a model that can make a significant playoff run against the AFC’s top teams. No matter how they get there, the passing offense has to open up and make some plays, even if it doesn’t need to be relied on. That much is clear. Whether the Steelers can execute remains to be seen.