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Kenny Pickett needs to have a good game sooner rather than later

If you’re wondering what that sound is, it’s the panic warning button I just pushed regarding Kenny Pickett, the Steelers’ second-year quarterback.

A panic warning button isn’t quite as bad as an actual panic button, but it’s the step right before pressing that sucker.

Even the most diehard Pickett fan has to be at least a little worried about his abilities to quarterback at an NFL level. Even in 2022, his rookie season, when he appeared in 13 games and started 12, Pickett offered very little tangible evidence that he could be something special. Yes, he did display moxie, guts, guile and leadership. He was accountable. He was obviously a film freak. There were those two game-winning touchdown drives near the latter stages of the regular season–one that beat the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium, and then another one that defeated the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Those drives more than validated everything we thought Pickett could be with a little more time and a little more seasoning.

True, Pickett tallied 2,404 passing yards and only seven touchdowns to nine interceptions, but he was a rookie.

And Matt Canada sucked. So did the offensive line for most of the year. Plus, Mike Tomlin was just too scared to take the reins off of his rookie passer.

Things would be different in 2023, and we got a glimpse of why when a noticeably bigger and more muscular Pickett made the media rounds throughout the offseason.

Then, there was training camp–Pickett was on point with his accuracy all summer.

Then, there was the preseason–Pickett engineered five touchdowns on five total drives over three games.

Now, we’re in the present–the 2023 regular season, a time when Pickett has been the absolute worst quarterback in the NFL through two games. And I’m not talking about the worst according to social media, a place where someone or something is always either the best or the worst. No, I’m talking about actual reality, a place where Pickett’s 69.7 quarterback rating is 32nd in the NFL. Pickett is a little better on ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, where he ranks 29th with a 19.9.

But 29th ain’t elite in anything other than sucking.

Pickett has completed 46 of 76 passes for 454 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions through the first two weeks of his second regular season. Pittsburgh’s offense has produced a grand total of 19 points so far.

Pickett’s accuracy, a strength, has almost totally disappeared. He’s missing open receivers. He’s not threading many needles.

What about those intangibles that the fans hung their hats on in 2022?

Pickett’s moxie has vanished, same with his guile. What about his guts? He seems scared in the pocket, so that has disappeared, too.

What about leadership? Teammates may say they want a leader at quarterback, but results are what they really want.

Pickett, who has now appeared in 15 games and started 14 so far in his young career, has yet to play a complete four quarters. What I mean is, he has yet to have a statistical day that left you thinking, “OK, that’s why they drafted him in the first round.”

Pickett still hasn’t thrown more than one touchdown in a game. He has only led the offense to 30 points one time, and that was in a loss to the Bengals at Acrisure Stadium last year.

Fifteen games may not seem like a huge sample size, but fans had made up their minds about Mason Rudolph’s quarterback prowess long before his 15th game. Rudolph has appeared in a total of 17 NFL games since 2019 and has started 10. He’s completed 236 of 384 passes for 2,366 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Rudolph’s career passer rating is 80.9, and he is 5-4-1 as a starter.

By comparison, Pickett has completed 291 of 465 passes for 2,858 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has a career passer rating of 75.5, and he is 8-6 as a starter.

Like Pickett, Rudolph has never had a game that left you thinking, “OK, that’s why the Steelers had a first-round grade on him.” Rudolph has also never shown that “it” factor that so many future franchise quarterbacks possess.

But Pickett has…or has he?

We were quick to think that following those comeback wins over the Raiders and Ravens late last season, but maybe we were just hoping Pickett had displayed such a factor.

I’m not saying Pickett is a bust just yet, but I am saying that maybe we should start preparing to have that conversation.

I would give Pickett the rest of this season and maybe even all of 2024 to prove that he was the right choice in the 2022 NFL Draft, but I doubt there are many who would share my patience.

In fact, unless the second-year passer starts to play with some consistency and/or finally puts a complete game together, I’m fairly confident that chants of “Pickett sucks!” will soon become just as popular as “Fire Canada!” currently are at NFL stadiums that include the Steelers and their fans.

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