There is no more important position in sports than quarterback, so there’s no tougher reality to face as an organization, teammate, or fan than the realization that you picked the wrong one. Now, add in the fact that the quarterback played for the local college team and you’ve got a city in denial.
Kenny Pickett is not the guy. If it wasn’t evident already, he made it abundantly clear on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. Sure, that Myles Garrett-led unit is historically good this season, but the game Pickett played was the type of performance that will get a young quarterback benched for good, or get his coach fired.
The Steelers and Art Rooney II opted for the latter, firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada on Tuesday morning, and removing the biggest excuse of staunch Pickett defenders, like Mike Tomlin. A report from Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made sure to point out that the firing came from the top, mentioning the Steelers’ owner by name. It did not come from the desk of Coach T.
Since Canada made the switch from the booth to the sidelines, his play designs have looked more creative, and he’s figured out the run game (the benching of Chuks Okorafor doesn’t hurt that either). However, Canada’s quarterback, who he moved down to the sidelines to communicate more freely with, has been worse.
In the 13-10 Week 12 loss to the little brother Browns, Pickett finished 15-28 for 106 yards and was sacked three times. When you dig deeper, the numbers are even worse.
Pickett was 26th of 28 quarterbacks in the NFL this past week in, average completed air yards at just 2.7. His average throw was also 3.6 yards short of the sticks and in the entire first half, he attempted just one pass behind the first down marker. He had the fourth quickest time to throw in the league this week, and it’s impossible to run a functional offense or call effective plays with a quarterback this skittish and unsettled in the pocket.
He’s also just not an accurate quarterback. Pickett didn’t come into the NFL with elite arm strength like Josh Allen, elite athleticism like Lamar Jackson, or a supercomputer for a brain like Joe Burrow, so he had to be deadly accurate to succeed.
In Week 12, Pickett posted a -8.2 completion percentage over expectation. For the season he is at -0.9, sandwiched right between the quarterbacking excellence of Gardner Minshew and Bryce Young. He’s only slightly better than Zach Wilson and Tyson Bagent in terms of accuracy (he’s also ahead of Patrick Mahomes, but anyone with eyes knows that because of Kansas City's lack of receivers, not his arm).
Don’t get me wrong there were plenty of wasted plays by Canada that routinely put his second-year quarterback in bad spots.
Exhibit A: Pickett’s passing charts. There are never any throws over the middle of the field. It allows linebackers to be extremely aggressive against the run and prevents Diontae Johnson and George Pickens from racking up yards after the catch. It’s debatable whether this is a Pickett or a Canada problem, but it’s a big problem. Now, we get to find out.
Need I show you more? However, Canada was far from the only issue with this offense. Pickett’s biggest defenders will tell you that the play-calling is the only thing holding Kenny and his gloves back from turning into a franchise quarterback. Well, now Pickett has seven games to prove his advocates right. I don’t think he will.
The Matt Canada defense team has some pretty incriminating of Kenny Pickett that they’d like to share:
Last season, when Pickett led the Steelers on game-winning drive after game-winning drive, I fell in love with his late-game heroics and moxie. I ignored the other three quarters, mostly because I assumed he’d figure those out. Well, he’s 25 years old and 22 starts into his career, and it's a lot like Buddy the Elf, "if he hasn't figured out how to play quarterback by now, I don't think he ever will."
I fell in love with Pickett’s ability to make plays in big spots, and that ability is a big reason the Steelers are 6-4 and in the playoff race. However, a good quarterback or even a decent one, wouldn’t fall behind a team like Green Bay, or the Dorian Thompson-Robinson-led Browns, and wouldn’t need to put the super hero cape on.
With the roster that the Steelers have, those games should have been resounding wins, but with the quarterback that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, those are nail-biters that can go either way.
You can blame Matt Canada all you want, but over these next seven games, it will be obvious that the offensive coordinator isn’t the only one who needs to be replaced in Pittsburgh this offseason.