Will Pickett and Pickens pick up where they left off in preseason?
Following a 30-7 thumping by the San Francisco 49ers, Steelers fans are left looking for answers following the poor performance from second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett.
The promising 2022 first round draft pick had a perfect passer rating through three preseason games but faltered in the team’s season opener, throwing 46 times for 232 yards but also missing his receivers with the accuracy we saw throughout the earlier exhibition games. Pickett would finish the game by tossing two interceptions in the loss.
Fans and analysts alike were excited to see how Pickett might connect with fellow 2022 NFL Draft classmate WR George Pickens, as the two connected for several exciting plays in the preseason.
One play that had fans on their feet, hearts racing, and social media buzzing was a deep pass to Pickens against the Atlanta Falcons. The electrifying connection unfolded in the first quarter on a 2nd-and-10 situation when Pickett unleashed a precision deep ball that Pickens expertly reeled in, setting the stage for a 1st-and-goal opportunity.
The sheer brilliance of this play was not lost on the fans who filled the stadium, but its impact extended far beyond the confines of the arena. Amidst the whirlwind of excitement, social media platforms erupted with comments and reactions, each one a testament to the awe-inspiring connection between Kenny Pickett and George Pickens in the world of sports betting in Pennsylvania. Fans, analysts, and football enthusiasts alike couldn’t help but join the chorus of admiration.
Some lauded the chemistry and precision of this quarterback-receiver partnership, recognizing the potential for great things to come. They saw this connection as a glimmer of hope for a Steelers team eager to return to the competitive NFL landscape spotlight.
Unfortunately, that combination didn’t materialize in the way everyone thought it would last Sunday, as Pickett targeted Pickens seven times, with the receiver out of Georgia hauling in five of those passes for a lowly 36 yards. The longest of those plays? A nine yard connection.
While it’s always important to temper preseason enthusiasm with a dose of reality, the two can correlate towards great things yet to come. Under the guidance of veteran head coach Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have established themselves as one of the most consistent teams in the NFL.
Also, it’s only one week into the 2023 NFL season, so there’s optimism that this particular game was an outlier, especially when you look around at the Steelers’ divisional and conference rivals.
The Cincinnati Bengals, led by the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, Joe Burrow, got off to a disastrous start to their season despite being bonafide preseason Super Bowl favorites. Despite leading an offense featuring stars like wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, Burrow only completed 45.2% of his throws to the tune of 82 yards. He failed to throw a touchdown in the game but also had no turnovers.
The Bengals’ opponent, the Cleveland Browns, saw their quarterback Deshaun Watson struggle in the passing game as well. Watson, in his first full season as the team’s starter, made his debut by passing for 154 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The Baltimore Ravens, who also shelled out a record contract to retain QB Lamar Jackson, didn’t see their signal caller ascend the leaderboard statistically either. Thought to have been boosted by the acquisitions of veteran WR Odell Beckham Jr., and rookie WR Zay Flowers.
Against one of 2022’s worst teams, the Houston Texans, Jackson threw for 169 yards, no scores and a pick.
While everyone saw Pickett and the Steelers offense struggle, it was hardly a good day for any of the AFC North’s passers – considering Pickett led them all in passing yards and tied for the most touchdowns.
The schedule ahead sets up a fiercely competitive AFC, with the Steelers playing four-straight conference games with two against division opponents.
A silver lining could be that Pittsburgh just faced the toughest opponent on their 2023 calendar, as the 49ers are fresh off of an appearance in the NFC Championship. In three of the previous four years the Steelers have opened against conference championship participants with mixed results.
While the preseason hype may have been overshadowed by a dismal performance against San Francisco, there’s hope that perhaps this was a single game against a top tier team. The Steelers are still a remarkably young group, especially on offense.
With an injury likely sidelining WR Diontae Johnson for Monday night’s clash against the Cleveland Browns, it’s time for the connection between Kenny Pickett and George Pickens to heat up. The duo finished their 2022 season in spectacular fashion, with the duo connecting on a 31-yard score in their Week 18 finale against Cleveland.
We’ll see on Monday Night Football if this combo can reconnect and do the same. (If I were a betting man, I’d say the best is yet to come.)