The Steelers’ run game mainly saved Pittsburgh last night against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football. The Steelers have struggled on the ground for much of the last two seasons, but Pittsburgh pounded the ball against Indy all night for 172 yards.
On defense, Pittsburgh kept Matt Ryan and the Colts handcuffed for much of the night. Until Indy’s second drive of the third quarter, the return game was their best source of offense. The game ended in a 24-17 win for the Steelers, but the score was closer than the play on the field.
While Pittsburgh certainly asserted itself physically, the finesse part of the Steelers’ game showed a promising future. The connection between rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens might be blossoming before our eyes.
During training camp, Pickens was one of the Steelers’ most impressive players. He had missed much of Georgia’s 2021 National Championship season due to an ACL injury. However, this past summer, Pickens showed why he was a highly touted recruit. The rookie wideout has also shown from that start that he doesn’t shy away from contact, which will always score brownie points with coach Mike Tomlin.
Pickett has gradually improved after struggling early in camp. The Steelers rolled with free-agent acquisition Mitchell Trubisky as the starter for the first four weeks of the season. Trubisky was benched in favor of Kenny Pickett after halftime against the New York Jets. Pittsburgh dropped that one, and four of the next seven.
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The losses weren’t solely on the QBs. For the second consecutive season, the offensive line was subpar at opening up holes in the running game. That part of the offense was ineffective until the Steelers rushed for 212 yards against the New Orleans Saints following a bye week. Najee Harris averaged more than four yards per carry in a 37-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11, but Pickens caught a touchdown and averaged nearly 21 yards per reception.
Last night, Pickens caught four passes for a second consecutive game, but one didn’t count toward his stat line. It was a successful 2-point conversion attempt that he hauled in on one knee in the back of the end zone. That is the play that put the Steelers up for good — a seven point lead — in the fourth quarter.
While Pickens made a great play to haul in the catch, Pickett was equally as good at moving around in the pocket and locating his target with an accurate pass. Outside of an overthrown pass to Pickens in the endzone late in the first half, Pickett appeared to be in command of the Steelers’ offense for a third consecutive week.
He used his legs when necessary, which allowed him to buy more time on his pass attempts, while also averaging 5.3 yards on rush attempts. Pickett only threw for 174 yards, but again, his ball placement and pocket awareness improved. He even called the play that led to the game-winning score. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound signal-caller also hasn’t thrown an interception since before the Steelers’ bye week.
Improvement becomes easier with a physically gifted player like Pickens in the pass patterns. The Steelers’ second-rounder displayed his physical prowess early by blocking, but that 2-point conversion and 35-yard back-shoulder catch last night showed that he can snatch a football out of the air when necessary.
This has become a rebuilding year for Pittsburgh. The Steelers still need some offensive line help, and more bodies on defense, and had better hope that Harris’ best years weren’t wasted. The quarterback/wide receiver duo of Pickett and Pickens, though, could be a pair that gets the Steelers back into AFC North contention quickly.