The Pittsburgh Steelers are still trying to find their niche in the passing game. While some teams have the perfect personnel to run wide receiver screens or allow their explosive playmakers to chew up yards after the catch on slants and drags, the Steelers could take a different approach.
During my time spent observing training camp practices in Latrobe this year, something has become increasingly clear to me: the Steelers could be special when it comes to running the back-shoulder fade. This is something that Kenny Pickett clearly likes to do.
Pickett has shown improvement all around from this year compared to where he was at this time during his rookie season. He can avoid the rush while keeping his eyes down the field, and he has looked good delivering a timely ball on deep comeback routes during 11 on 11s at practice. However, the back-shoulder pass could be an unstoppable force for the Steelers in the passing game if they can perfect it.
Why the back-shoulder pass could be a game-changer for the Steelers
When the Steelers selected Kenny Pickett and George Pickens with back-to-back picks to open the 2022 NFL Draft, we knew that it would only be a matter of time before these two found a strong connection. That connection could take off like a rocket early in the 2023 season.
So far at training camp, these two have developed excellent chemistry in a variety of situations. However, the niche of this passing offense could be an elite connection on back-shoulder passes.
For starters, this pass is clearly a favorite of Pickett's. Throughout training camp, he has shown the trust required to loft the ball up to his big receivers and allow them to make plays. As a result, body-control receivers like George Pickens, Allen Robinson, and Hakeem Butler have each come down with numerous back-shoulder passes down the sideline in team sessions.
The trump card here might be George Pickens. The former Georgia star has been a human highlight reel since arriving at training camp, and the back-shoulder pass seems to be nearly unstoppable when targeting him (just ask Joey Porter Jr., who was posterized by Pickens last week).
Putting his foot in the ground and making acrobatic catches is nothing new for Pickens. This is something he excelled at since high school, and it was clear as a freshman at Georgia that he had some special ability in this department.
While there are probably going to be better ways to utilize smaller players like Diontae Johnson and Calvin Austin, the Steelers do have some big possession receivers (and tight ends) who will thrive on back-shoulder passes this year. The biggest factors here are Pickett's willingness to trust his receivers and Pickens' ability to win at the catch point.
The Pittsburgh Steelers might not have an elite passing offense in 2023, but a high rate of connections on back-shoulder fades could increase the ceiling of the offense this season. If training camp practices are any indication, we could see a ton of these passes in 2023.