The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to untangle their offensive mess and diagnose the problems, having already fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The problem is they never got a chance to evaluate QB Kenny Pickett on an extended basis in the aftermath. That’s something owner Art Rooney finds regrettable.
“It was too bad Kenny got hurt and couldn’t finish the season,” he said during his recent one-on-one interview with KDKA’s Bob Pompeani for CBS Pittsburgh. “Would’ve liked to have seen what he did down the stretch. Obviously, the season before he got stronger down the stretch, so it would’ve been nice to see that”.
The Steelers fired Canada in his third season as coordinator following their Week 11 loss, 13-10, to the Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh isn’t known for making sudden changes. They had never fired a coach in-season, at least one who didn’t fire himself. Of the final seven games remaining, however, Pickett only played six quarters.
Pickett had one of his best games of the season just a week after Canada’s firing against the Cincinnati Bengals. Completing 24 of 33 passes for 278 yards, Pickett did not throw a touchdown, but with a caveat. He did make the necessary throw in the end zone to WR Diontae Johnson. The officials ruled that Johnson did not complete the catch inbounds, and head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t challenge. The Steelers won 16-10, but with that touchdown, the margin would have been much more comfortable.
A week later, Pickett aggravated an ankle injury attempting to score near the goal line. Facing 3rd and a goal from the three-yard line, he got tripped up and went down. RB Najee Harris couldn’t punch it in on 4th and goal, which would have given the Steelers a 10-3 lead at the time. The Arizona Cardinals scored 21 of the final 28 points to win, 24-10.
Mitch Trubisky started the next two games after finishing the second half against the Cardinals. His struggles forced the Steelers to bench him, however, in favor of Mason Rudolph. Rooney praised the sixth-year veteran accordingly.
“What Mason came in and did was great, too,” he said in direct continuation from his remarks about Pickett. “We wound up finishing the season strong with Mason and made the playoffs. That’s the way things roll sometimes.”
Pickett’s injury gave the Steelers the opportunity to get a better look at Rudolph in competitive circumstances. It also prevented them from getting a very important look at their former first-round draft pick at a key stage.
We could be having a very different discussion today if he didn’t injure his ankle and started the final five games. Perhaps Pickett would have continued to get better under Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan. There were already indications of that during his six quarters of play.
Or perhaps we would be having the exact same conversations, only with greater certainty. The fact is that he didn’t throw a single touchdown pass in those six quarters. To make matters worse, the team only scored one touchdown. They should have had one to Johnson, and they should have scored from the goal line. But would’ve and could’ve and should’ve ultimately don’t amount to much. Just like beating a block and not making the play.