Should the Steelers consider benching Kenny Pickett this year?

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers had a miserable outing against the 49ers in week one, and while there were numerous issues with the team, Kenny Pickett certainly didn’t live up to his billing. Entering his second year. Many were expecting a jump in play from the former Pitt quarterback. Those feelings seemed to amplify after an impressive preseason.

And then week one happened. While not the worst performer on the day, Pickett certainly didn’t look as advertised, and he looked like a shell of the player who performed in the preseason. The accuracy was off, and instead of efficiently pushing the ball down the field, Pickett was barely able to complete check-down passes.

Fans have been quick to defend Pickett, unsurprisingly. The former first-round pick has a big fanbase considering he played college at Pittsburgh and has the “hometown boy” feeling about him. As well, it isn’t uncommon for the fans to latch on to an early player and defend him constantly until the entire narrative is against them (see Devin Bush and even some Najee Harris die-hards).

That shouldn’t allow Pickett to have a pass though, as he needs to showcase some better skills if he wants to become a viable starting quarterback. If he doesn’t, pulling the plug is the next logical move. The question is, how long of a leash should he get?

Steelers need to see the flaws in Pickett's game

This isn’t to say that Pickett is a lost cause (he isn’t), but meddling with a mid-tier quarterback keeps you in NFL purgatory for a long time. The best teams all boast a top quarterback, and it is undoubtedly the most important position on the field. It takes time to get there, but almost all of those top quarterbacks were flashing those traits in their second season.

The issue is, there isn’t a player worth benching Pickett for if everything goes sideways. Mitch Trubisky is what he is, a below-average starter who can sustain a team if they need him. Mason Rudolph is nothing more than a backup. Adding either of them to the mix doesn’t move the needle.

The only reason you should see Pickett benched for either of those players is if this team is winning despite him. The defense and running game do just enough to win games, but Pickett is a turnstile that nearly costs Pittsburgh every week. If the Steelers are somehow in contention and Pickett is still playing poorly, a switch could be justified.

That likely won’t be the case, as continual poor quarterback play will likely lead to a playoff elimination. Assuming that is the case, Rudolph and Trubisky don’t make sense to come in. You know who both of them are; you might as well find out what you have (or don’t have) in Pickett.

Assuming Pickett gets the entire season, this would be the testing grounds on if he can or can’t make it as a starter. That doesn’t mean he can just show subtle improvements and be in a similar spot as he was last year. Sure, his play got better, but that was as much due to him game managing and relying on a run game as opposed to Pickett actually playing leaps and bounds better.

What Pickett needs to do

Pickett has to get his accuracy under check. It appeared as though that were the case considering how he looked in the preseason, but he was missing open receivers in week one. For those who are quick to blame the offensive line, Pickett was actually one of the best quarterbacks when pressured this past week, a common trend from his rookie season.

What I see is a quarterback who fails to progress through reads, forces passes, and struggles with general accuracy in the short to middle range of his throws. That is a red flag for a quarterback who was considered pro-ready coming out of school. These are issues that will cost this team in the long run.

While I am no Matt Canada defender, he also isn’t the only problem. While his routes and concepts are far too repetitive and simple, there were quite a few cases where Pickett missed an open receiver or showcased his inaccuracy on an errant pass.

While I am disappointed in how Pickett played in week one, there is no reason to bench him this season unless the team is winning despite his play. Give him this season to show us what he’s got, and if he continues to fail, look toward the 2024 draft for an answer. If he is still struggling with these same issues in six months, I doubt we are going to see any significant improvement.

4 major changes the Steelers must make before Week 2. dark. Next. 4 major changes the Steelers must make before Week 2

Ideally, Pickett and the Steelers bounce back and this isn’t a conversation worth having in a couple weeks. That said, I am nervous about Pickett’s ability after the opener. He failed to show growth in the areas he struggled with last season, and while benching him won’t be an answer, the leash needs to be short if he can’t display some growth this season.