Like it or not, the Kenny Pickett era began for the Steelers mid-Sunday afternoon as the 1-2 Steelers offense struggled for a third straight week.
While the Steelers lost, Kenny Pickett injected enough energy into the Steelers offense, allowing them to move the ball effectively, involving George Pickens in a way that Mitch Trubisky had not. Pickett then set a Steelers record by becoming the first Steelers rookie quarterback to come off the bench to score at least two touchdowns.
Following the game, as expected, Mike Tomlin was asked by the Media if he would start Pickett against the Bills. Tomlin did not want to speculate on that as the game ended but said we would look at it once we started preparing for the Bills.
Whether Tomlin made this decision last week or whether he did it next week, so long as Trubisky struggled to put points on the board, he had to keep looking over his shoulder and think when the switch would occur. Now that Tomlin has made the change, the looming question then became, will Tomlin start Pickett against Buffalo? We found that answer out Tuesday as the Steelers announced they would indeed start Pickett against the Bills.
Why Tomlin had to keep Pickett as the Steelers quarterback
The decision to play Pickett against the Jets was one more of necessity rather than need. It’s not a situation in which when Trubisky came off the field; you knew he would eventually go back on. Case in point Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger. While Bradshaw faced a little more adversity early on he was still the guy who led the offense, and with Roethlisberger, if he left the field, it was because of an injury.
In Trubisky’s situation, he had done nothing to earn keeping the starting role. If he exited the field for any reason, there was nothing to indicate he would ever return unless the Steelers had to in a case of injury. Now that Pickett came in, for now, he is the new field general. It’s not like Tomlin had much of a decision in the matter.
As a coach, not being able to make a decision is sometimes worse than making a wrong decision. Sometimes when a coach makes a decision, he has to own up to it. In this case, that is making Pickett the permanent starter. In this case, it would be much harder for the rest of the team to know whom to support if the coach can not even indicate whom he believes in. That’s probably the most important factor in making Pickett the starter when the Steelers play the Bills. The players know, ok, Pickett is the new guy; what do we have to do to get him the win?
Colin Cowherd, host of the sports talk show “The Herd,” had an interesting slant on the Steelers quarterback situation, and we know the NFL, is about winning Superbowls which takes precedence of Tomlin never having a losing record. Since Pickett is a rookie, you can not make a definitive evaluation over 3-4 games; you have the give him about 14 starts to find out how well he can play. Suppose he goes 3-11 in that stretch he does. Some rookie quarterbacks have posted poor records in their first year but steadily improved.
Look at Trevor Lawrence, Terry Bradshaw, and others. But at the end of it, if he goes 3-11 in his stretch well, the Steelers get a good draft pick. They can get a quarterback in the 2023 draft. If they feel they can continue with Pickett, they can grab an offensive lineman or cornerback or fill another position of need. At this stage, fans need to worry less about Tomlin’s winning season streak. Let him create a new identity for the Steelers now that the last of the players he inherited when he took over the head coaching job has now ridden off into the sunset, specifically Ben Roethlisberger.
What do the Steelers do with Trubisky?
Trubisky, for the most part, was in a bad situation. He not only had to prove that he should be a starting quarterback, but he also had to keep looking over his shoulder, knowing that if I fail to produce satisfactory results, I know I could be scrapped at any minute. Something that does not help make you feel confident of success.
In that sense, with Tomlin’s decision to make the quarterback change, he can not do the same thing to Pickett. If Pickett is indeed the Steelers future, he can not be looking over his shoulder thinking Trubisky will be back in if I fail. For that reason former Steeelrs quarterback Charlie Batch brought up an interesting point: Trubisky should be demoted to the third-string quarterback for Pickett to succeed. Then Pickett knows the guy behind him is the backup and does not have to worry about that guy taking his job.
Short of making that move, some have suggested the Steelers should float a trade for Trubisky to see what comes along. However, that may or may not be a good idea. At least you still have him in case of injury. Yet what are you going to get in exchange? No other team in the league needs Trubisky at the moment; plus, he has not proven himself, and Tomlin is replacing him with a rookie. At best, the Steelers might get a 7th-round choice, perhaps a 6th if there are lucky. Even if the Steelers wanted to stockpile draft picks, they won’t get much in return unless another team has a rash of quarterback injuries and needs Trubisky.
Staying with Pickett, for now, is, if anything, the smart coaching decision, and Mike Tomlin made a change; he needs to own up to it and try to make it work. The ideal situation would be to give Pickett a year first before immersing him in the starting role. However, in the NFL, what you end up doing is generally directed by the need for wins.
The Steelers need wins; Tomlin does not want a losing season; he is doing what he must to achieve that. If you fail to make the hard choices, owners will dump you and find someone who will. While this is the wise decision to roll with Pickett, there is no guarantee it’s the right call. As much as fans would love Pickett to steal a win against the Bills in his first start, that may not happen. Pickett could play great, but the Steelers could lose most of their games from here on out.
The point is that whether the decision proves to be the best coaching decision, Tomlin made it. He has to own up to it, irrespective of the consequences.