Miracles are one of the strangest phenomena that humans don't yet have answers for. They can present themselves in a multitude of forms, including a return to full health from a medical scare, winning the lottery or starting an NFL season 6-4 with Kenny Pickett as your starting quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a gut-punching 13-10 loss on Sunday at the hands of the Cleveland Browns in a game that looked exactly like the six wins they've collected on the year. The offense was atrocious outside of a couple random big plays, the defense made a couple of splash plays to keep the Steelers in the game, and Pickett, their first-round draft pick in 2022, hasn't shown any indication that he can generate yards for an NFL offense.
Running back Najee Harris gave an honest, accurate assessment of the Steelers' performance this season during his media availability after the game. "Record-wise, we're good," Harris said. "You can do two things. You can look at the record and go, 'OK, we're doing good right now.' Or you can look at the record and be like, 'If we keep playing this type of football, how long is that s*** gonna last?' I look at like how long is that s*** gonna last?"
It’s a prudent and fair point in a league that at times can get caught up in wins over the product on the field, and how the games are actually being won. Despite being 6-4, the Steelers have been outgained in every single game this year. Only the hazardous New York Jets have fewer first downs than the Steelers on the season. They’re 28th in yards per play (4.7), 27th in net yards per passing attempt (5.1) and 29th in percentage of drives that end in a score (27.8%). According to RBSDM.com, the Steelers' offense ranks 25th in expected points added per play (-0.091). This isn’t a winning formula, despite the Steelers having a winning record on the season.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was fired on Tuesday, and he hasn't been great. But the truth is there aren't many (or maybe any) offensive coordinators who could produce a quality offense with the caliber of quarterback play Pickett is providing. The best way to describe Pickett is that the NFL looks too difficult for him. He struggles to fit the ball into tight windows, has inconsistent accuracy on routine throws and lacks the high-end athleticism or arm strength to compensate for those problems. He's not creating offense or positively influencing the Steelers in a way where he can put his teammates in a position to succeed. As the games in Pickett's career continue to stack up with this level of production, it becomes clearer that Pittsburgh needs to seriously consider upgrading at quarterback this offseason.
The Steelers don’t have overwhelming talent at their skill positions, but they’re more talented than the numbers they put up. Diontae Johnson and George Pickens are a capable wide receiver duo and the emergence of running back Jaylen Warren has given the Steelers some much-needed juice in the backfield. Tight end Pat Freiermuth hasn’t been much of a factor this season, but he’s already proven in past seasons that he can be a force. It’s Pickett’s inability to do any heavy lifting of his own that has the Steelers stuck in the mud. The framework for an effective offense is in place, the Steelers just have to get more from their QB.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Steelers' brass are going to have to consider something that is still taboo as far as NFL thinking is concerned: move on from a quarterback that you’ve won games with.
The Steelers are 13-9 with Pickett as their starting quarterback and 15-12 overall since drafting him. Pickett has had some nice moments in the fourth quarter this season when the defense can keep it close, but he’s more bystander than active participant for the vast majority of the time.
Pittsburgh is leaving a lot of meat on the bone on offense right now. Maybe Canada needed to be replaced, but these problems will remain with any offensive coordinator calling plays for Pickett. It’s time for the Steelers to think hard about their future at quarterback, whether they make the playoffs or not.