Kenny Pickett will make his first NFL start this week against the Bills. Here’s why it will be a trial by fire for the Steelers first-round pick.
It’s one thing for a quarterback to make his first NFL start just five games into his NFL career; it’s something else entirely to do so on the road against a loaded Buffalo Bills team. As I have voiced on the Still Curtain Podcast, this is a terribly difficult test Kenny Pickett will have to begin his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Through the first four games of the season, Buffalo is tied for 1st in the NFL in total defense — allowing just 234.5 offensive yards per game, according to Team Rankings. This is fascinating when you consider that they’ve already played teams like the Rams, Dolphins, and Ravens. Likewise, the Bills are 2nd in the NFL with just 14.5 points per game allowed.
The Steelers, meanwhile, were only able to muster up 15.6 offensive points per game under the direction of Mitch Trubisky, and they currently rank near the bottom of the league in every major statistical category on offense.
Was the timing right for Steelers to start Pickett?
While a change needed to be made, I don’t think switching to Kenny Pickett came at the most opportune time. Last week, I stated that the Steelers ultimately had two choices: they could declare Pickett the starter immediately after the Browns game — giving him 10 days to prepare for the New York Jets at home — or they could wait to name him the starter until the Week 9 bye.
Instead of going with either of these options, Mike Tomlin decided to go with Pickett in the second half against the Jets despite taking zero reps with the starting offense last week. He confirmed on Tuesday that Kenny Pickett will be their starting quarterback moving forward.
The problem is now Pickett will make his first start against one of the best teams in the NFL. In addition to the Bills defense ranking near the top of the league, Pickett will face a ferocious pass rush led by Von Miller. Buffalo’s talent on the edge should be able to routinely get the best of Steelers offensive tackles, and the matchup between Miller and Dan Moore is one I’m certainly not looking forward to.
If Pickett is able to do enough to buy time and elide the pass rush, he still has to deal with a defense that is allowing just 150.8 passing yards per game over the first four contests. Additionally, Buffalo ranks 6th in the NFL in sacks generated per game.
This is just a terrible matchup for the Steelers all around, and it’s unfortunate that Pickett’s first NFL start has to come against such a good team. Even if he’s able to rise to the challenge against a stingy defense, it seems highly unlikely that he will be able to keep pace with Josh Allen — who could potentially have a field day against a T.J. Watt-less Steelers defense.
I’m really pulling for Kenny Pickett to take the world by storm in his first start, but this is about as big of a challenge as it gets. The Steelers are 14-point underdogs for a reason, and Pittsburgh still has to face the Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Eagles before the bye. I want Pickett on the field, but I’m just not sure this was the right time to make the switch, considering what lies ahead.