Overreactions from Steelers Nation: What quarterback controversy?

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation” a weekly column where I poke fun at fans, reporters, and so-called experts while trying to figure out if some of these hot takes are real – or just for attention.

Tuesdays aren’t something to usually look forward to. I mean, there’s Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference, but for the most part, its him coming up with cliches and clever one-liners to dodge the sound bite seeking press.

But yesterday’s presser was a little different. A lot of us had one thing on our mind as the Steelers prepare to head to Miami for Sunday Night Football: who will be the starting quarterback?

The question has been front-and-center since Ben Roethlisberger announced that 2021 would be his final season. The search for his replacement has dominated headlines from the signing of free agent Mitchell Trubisky to the first-round selection of Kenny Pickett in the NFL Draft.

It was Trubisky, however, that got the first crack at the job throughout offseason workouts – and would never lose that title until Week 4, against the New York Jets. Mike Tomlin benched his veteran signal caller for the rookie, and it appeared that Pittsburgh’s offense was off to the races.

Sort of.

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Despite Pickett leading two touchdown drives against the Jets, the team would still be defeated. A week later, they wouldn’t even compete against a Buffalo Bills team that mopped the floor with them.

In that game, Pickett showed “poise” and “character” but that didn’t result in much more than three points on the scoreboard.

The pitchforks and torches were out for offensive coordinator Matt Canada. After all, when you count Big Ben, Mitch, and Kenny, that’s three different quarterbacks where the lack of offensive production still has the same common denominator.

Yet, the against-all-odds win on Sunday felt different throughout. The Steelers scored on their opening drive for the first time since Week 10 last season. (Where Mason Rudolph last led the same.) Pickett operated loose, as the team gained first downs and converted third downs – and even aggressively went for it on fourth down.

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There were some missteps, such as the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, where the offense sputtered – and then? Pickett was knocked out of the game as part of the league’s tightening of their concussion protocol.

Ironically, that protocol was altered after Pittsburgh’s upcoming opponent, the Miami Dolphins, may have mishandled a concussion to their starting quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. Surely, there’s no way we’d see Pickett back on the field so quickly, in primetime, no less against the team that was just in the same spotlight for a head injury.

But it’s being discussed, despite Trubisky having a little over a quarter of the best football he’s played to date.

The veteran came in, cold – and looked cold – before warming up. More like heating up. On fire if Marv Albert were doing the play-by-play for NFL on FOX.

Trubisky went 9-of-12 for 144 yards and a touchdown pass – the first to any Steelers wide receiver this season. The touchdown drive spanned 8 plays for 71 yards. The next would be the last, chewing the remaining 4:38 off the clock as number 10 lined up in victory formation.

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The win may be bittersweet for Trubisky, as Coach Tomlin reaffirmed that Kenny Pickett is his starter. Pickett, who is still in concussion protocol and must be cleared to play Sunday night, is however, cleared to practice.

Before Tomlin spoke, some were considering if Trubisky should get his job back. First, it’s never been the head coach’s style to have a player lose their spot due to injury. Yet, it was kind of surprising to hear Coach T speak decisively, and not in coach speak, to dance around the question:

“From an injury standpoint, Kenny Pickett is in the concussion protocol. It’s my understanding that his work won’t be limited in any way in preparation, and so we’ll adhere to the protocol, and we’ll follow that and let that be our guide in terms of participation.

I’ll say this: If he’s cleared to play, he’ll play. He’ll play quarterback for us.

In the meanwhile, man, we’ll ready ourselves. He’ll be a full participant is my understanding for tomorrow. So, we’ll have him and Mitch working at the quarterback position.”

Those words, straight from the horse’s mouth, have shutdown any such speculation that the hot take media could print since Sunday’s game ended.

I know there are some folks asking, “Why not give Trubisky a chance?” To those, I’d remind them that the Steelers had already given him one, and the offense failed miserably.

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While Pickett didn’t light the world on fire with yards-per-attempt against the Bucs, there was more than enough promise in how the offense moved the ball – and played with a lead – to suggest he should carry on as the starter.

Then there’s the nagging fact that Pickett was drafted to be the team’s future. It was never a matter of if but a question of when the Steelers would turn to him as the starting QB. There was always some speculation as to whether Tomlin could turn back if this decision to start the rookie backfired, and this would be a prime opportunity. But it doesn’t appear that Pickett has taken a backstep, nor does it appear that Tomlin will risk a swap at the position.

For all intents and purposes there is no quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh.

The only controversy on the horizon will be if Pickett does or doesn’t play Sunday: and what the aftermath may be if he takes a similar spill like Tua.

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