Steelers QB report card: Kenny Pickett has forgettable Year 2 debut vs. 49ers

Kenny Pickett, Steelers
Kenny Pickett, Steelers / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Pickett and the Steelers offense built up a ton of optimism following their impressive preseason showing, but it all came crashing down against a tough 49ers defense in Week 1. Turnovers, bad pass protection, players slipping, you name it. Anybody with eyes knows the offense was dreadful, but just how bad was Pickett really? And how can he and the offense turn things around in Week 2?

Kenny Pickett looked like his early-season rookie self

I won’t sugarcoat it: Pickett was a big part of the problem for the Steelers offense. Throughout the offseason and preseason, Pickett looked far more poised in the pocket and in control of the offense than he did for most of his rookie season. Even though he is a natural playmaker outside of structure, his ability to win from the pocket was what could truly turn him into a franchise quarterback.

Against the 49ers, we saw very little of the expected growth from him in that area. He was skittish, indecisive, and overall looked uncomfortable in the pocket. Part of that was lackluster pass protection for much of the game, but even when he had time to throw, he never settled into a rhythm. The Steelers offense started 0-5 on third down, with Pickett being sacked or throwing an interception on three of those five. 

That horrific start was briefly corrected with an impressive 12-play, 95-yard touchdown drive to finish the first half. Even that drive though had its issues, including a missed throw to Diontae Johnson that could have been a touchdown. Luckily for Pickett, he still found Pat Freiermuth for his only touchdown later in the drive. It gave the Steelers life despite being down 20-7 at the half.

Any hope of a Steelers comeback was quickly erased in the third quarter thanks to two punts and a turnover on downs. All the momentum the offense built up from their two-minute drill seemed to disappear.


Pickett was locked into his first read, and when he wasn’t he was hunting for big plays that were rarely there. His most egregious mistake though came in the fourth quarter, attempting to hit Connor Heyward of all people over the deep middle with All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner in coverage. Warner tipped the ball up right into the waiting arms of safety Talonoa Hufanga for the pick.

Overall, this was a game where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Pickett was not as accurate, poised, or smart with the football as he was late last season. The good thing about that is we can assume things can only go up from here as he settles into the season.

The bad thing is that until he proves otherwise, there is no guarantee the improvements he displayed this summer and in the preseason will make their way into the regular season. All Pickett can do is try and learn from this game and move on to a tough matchup against Cleveland on Monday night.

Grade: D

Next. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Steelers Week 1 loss vs. 49ers. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Steelers Week 1 loss vs. 49ers. dark