George Pickens has hardly been involved so far through two games. Here’s who the Pittsburgh Steelers could help him explode onto the scene vs the Browns.
Of all the fingers to point for Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles early in the season, George Pickens is one of the last players you could rightfully blame for the lack of success. This is mainly because he has hardly been involved. Throughout the first two weeks, Pickens has just 2 catches for 26 yards on 6 targets, via Pro Football Reference — half of which have been deemed uncatchable.
During the summer, Pickens was widely considered the most electrifying player at Steelers training camp. He consistently beat Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks in one-on-ones, he was an impact player in team sessions and was utilized in the red zone. However, early in the year, Pickens has hardly been used at all.
After re-watching each of the first two games multiple times, it looks like Pickens is simply used as a prop on the field. Matt Canada’s scripted passing plays are almost always designed to go the opposite direction of Pickens and much of his route tree consists of go routes and fades — not allowing him to get in any sort of rhythm.
Steelers must utilize Pickens early vs Browns
For a young, gifted player who stood out in such a positive light this summer, you would have thought that Pittsburgh would have made more of an effort to make him a pivotal component of their offense. This hasn’t been the case at all, but the Steelers need to change that against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football.
Pickens is a much more well-rounded player than many give him credit for. Despite his size (6’3 1/4”) and 4.47 speed, he’s not a player who should be used solely as a deep threat. Instead, the Steelers need to expand his route tree. Allow him to get comfortable underneath and work the middle of the field with more posts, slants, and drag routes. ESPN’s Seth Walder has been charting his usage on certain routes, and it’s not pretty:
Obviously, this would require a willingness from QB Mitch Trubisky to target him on these plays. Through two games, Trubisky has been among the worst quarterbacks in the league in completing and attempting passes over the middle of the field, according to Next Gen Stats.
However, perhaps a big, athletic target like Pickens could change that. Pittsburgh’s passing game is currently broken. Trubisky is averaging a dismal 5.1 yards per attempt entering Week 3, and this simply will never be good enough to have a high-powered offense that can put up points with the best teams in the league.
The game plan this week should not only be to exploit the middle of the field against a Browns defense that ranks 25th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per contest (258.0) and 26th in points per game surrendered (27.5) but also to get George Pickens involved early and often.
If Pickens can prove to be a major threat on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense (like we all believe he can) it will really help open things up for the running game and allow for more big plays. This is going to take cooperation from both Mitch Trubisky and Matt Canada, but they must realize that their scripted game plan is not working and that they need to find a way to get Pickens the ball.