3. Kenny Pickett hasn’t helped his running backs
There isn’t a Steelers player I am more disappointed in his season than Pickett, and I think his struggles are a primary reason that this running game hasn’t been effective. The simple reason is that defenses don’t fear Pickett, and he hasn’t done anything to change that.
Pickett has looked uncomfortable so far in his second season. More often than not he fails to read a defense well, stares down his target, and his accuracy has been horrible. These were all issues that were slowly starting to improve last season, but I have seen major regression so far in 2023.
On top of this, the vertical element of his game is completely gone. Pickett is rarely throwing deep, and when he does, the aforementioned issues have made that a mistake. He has been inefficient this year, and he is making the job easy for defenses.
Instead of having to go lighter and be more focused on the secondary, teams can stack boxes and bring pressure/focus on stopping the run. Pickett doesn’t pose a threat to defenses. Even when the occasional big play happens (see the George Pickens catch and run against Cleveland), those are so few and far between that they don’t matter.
The Steelers offense is second to last in the league, and Pickett is a huge reason why. The opposing defense knows they can stack boxes and rush five or more players regularly, and more often than not, it will work.
While the playcalling is stale and the blocking could be better, Pickett is making it too easy for defenses to play the run. Instead of having to think about the passing game, and especially the vertical passing game, they can settle in, load boxes, and force the game to be won by Pickett.
These three issues, and primarily Pickett, are my only explanation as to why this running game is so pitiful. The Raiders, thankfully, have one of the worst rushing defenses in the league (although to be fair, the Steelers lead in that category). Pittsburgh needs to get back on plan and get both of their talented running backs going this week. Unfortunately, a lot of exterior factors are working against them.