Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

Advanced analytics show Kenny Pickett isn’t “playing it safe”

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who has struggled to move the ball on offense in the early stages of the 2023 season. This sluggish start has fans demanding change and wanting to point fingers. Of course, most of the fingers are pointed at offensive coordinator Matt Canada, but there are plenty who also point to Kenny Pickett as a reason why the team might be struggling offensively.

If you are someone who believes Pickett has always been “playing it safe”, then I don’t know what to tell you but the advanced analytics don’t share the same sentiment. According to Zebra Technologies Next Gen Stats, Pickett has been making plenty of throws which can be labeled as “aggressive”.

“A whopping 40.6% of Kenny Pickett’s 32 passing attempts were tracked as aggressive, most in a game this season. Despite this, Pickett ended the week with a +5.3 CPOE (7th highest). Pickett has now led the league in aggressive passing attempts in back-to-back weeks, becoming the 2nd QB to do so this year (Jordan Love, weeks 2 & 3). Accordingly, Pickett and Love have the 2 highest aggressiveness marks of the season – 25.8% and 25.3% respectively.”

As you dive deeper down the advanced analytics hole, you also see Pickett’s favorite target, George Pickens, showing up. And where does he show up? Along the sideline…as expected.

“On George Pickens’ game-winning 41-yard TD, QB Kenny Pickett faced an 8-man box with the deepest defender 4.5 yards off the line of scrimmage. The duo took advantage of the Ravens defense in Cover 0, scoring a TD that featured Pickett throwing a pass with 40.2 yards of air distance and Pickens being just 1.8 yards from the sideline at the time of the catch. Since entering the league in 2022, Pickens has 327 receiving yards on sideline targets. No other receiver has more than 200 (Stefon Diggs, 198). In Week 5, Pickens had the lowest average cushion (3.4 yards) and average separation (1.1) yards of any receiver, still hauling in 6 passes on 10 targets for 130 yards.”

When talking about the team’s Week 5 win, there was plenty to talk about, and Alex Highsmith had himself a game. Highsmith has only accounted for two sacks this season, but don’t think he isn’t putting pressure on the quarterback. In fact, his 11 pressures vs. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens tied the most in a single game all season.

“Alex Highsmith generated a career high 11 pressures, tied for the most in a game by any player this season (30 total on the season). Highsmith’s strip-sack of Lamar Jackson with 1:12 remaining in the 4th quarter increased the Steelers’ win probability from 74.8% to 99.0% (+24.2%).”

The Steelers are 3-2 as they hope to get healthy, and get right, during their week off. Will they start to put together some improved performances following the bye? That is certainly the hope.

Be sure to stay tuned to SCN for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Los Angeles Rams in Week 7 after their bye.

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