2022 Steelers Season Recall: Pickett’s first start turns into disastrous trip to Buffalo

Steel City Underground presents our 2022 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

Entering the Pittsburgh Steelers’ road game against the Buffalo Bills, there was a mix of anticipation and concern expressed by analysts, media outlets, and fans in Steelers Nation about Week 5 of the 2022 NFL regular season. The Steelers were going to give their rookie quarterback his first career NFL start against a Bills defense that ranked high in several categories but had several key players on the injury report.

The Steelers entered this game as the biggest underdog they’ve ever been since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, giving the Bill 14 points. Things looked hopeful… until the game got underway and the Steelers hit the wall as the Bills cruised to a 38-3 rout.

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Pickett had quite a first start

If you’re seeing people on social media saying you owe Mitchell Trubisky an apology, ignore them… or don’t. At least consider the body of evidence that was Kenny Pickett‘s first start for the Steelers before making that decision.

The rookie missed some reads but needed a little more assistance from his teammates while facing a Bills defense that is ranked second in the league despite missing pieces. The run game was kept in check by the Bills, forcing Pickett to attempt to convert critical downs through the air. Unfortunately, several balls were just not handled well – or fought for – by teammates Pickett targeted.

George Pickens definitely had a connection with Pickett. Pickens gained 83 yards on just six catches.

Although Pickett did throw one interception and was unable to put a ball into the arms of a teammate for a touchdown, he did make history with his performance.

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His 34 completions we’re the most by a rookie quarterback in their first career start since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, he grabbed the eighth-most passing yards (327) by a rookie quarterback in that same time span, he threw for the most yards in the second half of the game (206) of any rookie quarterback in franchise history, and was the fifth quarterback in Steelers record books to throw for at least 200 yards in a single half per Michael Bertsch.

“I think the way I work and how much effort and time I put in with these guys, I think the respect is there. So when I’m talking to guys there’s no disrespect, no calling anybody out. We all wanna win. That’s something we have to continue to work towards. The road doesn’t get easier so it’s gotta get fixed quickly.” – Kenny Pickett

Pickett completed 34 of 52 pass attempts (65.4%) but would fail to throw a touchdown pass and had one interception, which ended his day with a 74.8 QB rating.

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A myriad of issues on defense

The Steelers knew their defense had injuries that would require depth and recently-activated players to execute the game plan and adjust accordingly:

Seeing many of these names and the amount of time they were on the field, shouldn’t feel comforting. Levi Wallace and Cameron Sutton were banged up. Terrell Edmunds and Ahkello Witherspoon were ruled out too. Larry Ogunjobi only played 7 snaps (12%).

That’s not including the obvious missing piece, T.J. Watt.

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It’s difficult to point out a single issue that led to the loss, though. Overall, the defense was out-manned, out-positioned, and effectively run to ground as Josh Allen and the Bills offense had their way with them like a runaway freight train.

“Execution. Not tackling. Not using basic things that we practiced from training camp, whether it’s staying inside or having the gap or using your hands. It’s all of these things included. And that butt kicking we just took proves that.” – Cameron Heyward on the team’s performance

At no point would it ever be ideal to have Robert Spillane defending deep down the field in coverage that required him to prevent a pass in the end zone. It was frustrating to see a lack of pressure up front result in a deep pass only for the pressure to improve and the Bills slip a nice run through the line past Myles Jack, who’d settled into pass protection.

Those two players were not, by far, the only Steelers defenders to end up in tough situations. They certainly had teammates on defense that let themselves, and the team, down. The Bills not only scored 38 points, but they racked up 552 yards of offense in only 54 plays. They converted 5-of-9 of their third downs and the Steelers only had a single hit on their quarterback.

As fans continued to call for the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, very few were asking why Brian Flores hadn’t adjusted the defensive schemes, especially after the first half of the game was ugly.

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The Steelers’ performance was one of the most embarrassing in nearly two decades, as they got blasted by the Bills by a final score of 38-3. It would be Pittsburgh’s fourth-straight loss, dropping to 1-4 on the season with their lone win in overtime against a Bengals team that couldn’t convert a kick that would’ve made the Steelers 0-5. Many questions and fingerpointing would begin throughout the next week as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on deck next week.

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