George Pickens has been remarkable when targeted in recent weeks, but he needs to become a bigger part of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense moving forward.
George Pickens could be a legitimate Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, not to mention a future Pro Bowl player. If only the Pittsburgh Steelers would make the wide receiver from the University of Georgia the focal point of their struggling offense. More importantly, a purposeful change like that on a team seeking an offensive identity (I’m talking to you, Matt Canada) could propel the Steelers to a nice winning streak that would get them back in the…dare I say it…playoff race.
Through seven games, the Steelers have a 2-5 record and their offense ranks 31st in the NFL in points scored (107), 30th in percentage of drives ending in an offensive score (26.9%), and 29th in total yards (2,090), per stats at Pro-Football-Reference and NFL.com.
Pickens has arguably proven to be the Steelers’ best wideout with a team-leading 338 yards receiving on just 26 receptions (13.0 yards/reception). Diontae Johnson ranks second on the team with 337 yards on 38 catches (8.9 yards/reception), while Chase Claypool has added 266 yards on 26 receptions (9.5 yards/reception).
With Pickens’ outstanding size (6-foot-3), speed (4.47 in the 40-yard dash), and great hands/body control (see his touchdown reception against Miami or his sideline contortion catch at Cleveland), he needs to be touching the ball at least 7-8 times per game. Instead, he’s averaging less than four touches per game thus far, which is on a pace for 68 touches during the regular season.
Why Steelers need to get Pickens the ball more often
In comparison, former Steelers WR Antonio Brown had six straight seasons of 100-plus touches (117 touches per season; 7.3 touches per game) when he was the focal point of the Pittsburgh offense from 2013-18. Granted, Brown caught just 16 passes in limited action as a rookie in 2010. But that was when he was on a team that went to the Super Bowl with a loaded core of receivers like Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle-El, and even fellow rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders.
Pickens is surrounded by some solid players in the receiver room as well — such as Johnson and Claypool — but there’s simply no excuse for him getting only two targets after halftime (and those were on consecutive plays midway through the fourth quarter) of a one-score game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday night.
I don’t care if the opponent is double-teaming him (they aren’t), or if the best corner in NFL history is defending him (he’s not). The Steelers must find a way to get Pickens the ball more often!
Since fellow rookie Kenny Pickett entered at halftime of the New York Jets game, Pickens’ production has gone up. Pickens has caught 77.2 percent of Pickett’s passes to him (17 receptions on 22 targets) for 223 yards (13.1 yards/reception) and a touchdown in basically three full games plus one offensive possession in the second half against Tampa Bay.
With Mitch Trubisky as the starting QB, Pickens managed just seven receptions on 16 targets (43.8 catch percentage) for 96 yards and no touchdowns in the first 3.5 games.
Steelers must focus on Pickett-to-Pickens connection
Sunday’s game against the league’s only undefeated team, the Philadelphia Eagles (6-0), would be a good place to start this transition to making Pickens the focal point of the offensive attack. Yes, the Eagles are stacked defensively, with corners like Darius Slay and James Bradberry patrolling the secondary. However, nobody expects the Steelers to win this game, so why not?
Increase Pickens’ touches, and the offense will eventually score more points. It may or may not result in a victory against the Eagles, but it could definitely be positive with the Steelers heading into their week nine bye.
The Steelers always seem to play close games against their AFC North counterparts and have non-division games against the likes of New Orleans (2-5), Indianapolis (3-3-1), Atlanta (3-4), Carolina (2-5), and Las Vegas (2-4) on the back half of the schedule. An increase in Pickens’ targets could be the impetus to scoring more than 20 points in a game and making a run toward a playoff berth.