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The next step of Kenny Pickett’s progression is red-zone efficiency

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback knows the offense needs to be more efficient when it matters most.

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off their most complete victory of the 2022 regular season, a game where they scored 20 points but failed in one specific area of the game. That area also would coincide with the next facet of Kenny Pickett’s game which needs to develop.

The red-zone.

The Steelers finished last week with a 2-for-5 stat line in the red-zone, and for a team who struggles to put points on the board, being under the 50% mark is not going to cut it in big-time games.

As fans know, Pittsburgh’s offense is a grind-it-out style of offense. They rarely get the big play, and have to rely on long, time-consuming drives to add to their point total. During those drives a lot of bad can take place, but when you consider the Steelers are the only offense in the NFL who doesn’t have a score outside of the 10-yard line, it is glaring.

In Week 10 the Steelers moved the ball with efficiency, and had several chunk plays, plays of 20+ yards, on six occasions. This was all great when it came to moving the ball down the field, but those four runs and two passes never equated in touchdowns scored. The team’s two scores came from the one-yard line.

Pickett, who met with media Wednesday, knows the red-zone is the next box he needs to check off on his to-do list.

“We’re not where we need to be.” Pickett said of the Steelers’ red-zone offense. “Obviously, there’s less grass, right? So, it’s tighter windows, the timing, everything’s faster. I’ve got to meet the guys at certain spots with the ball; they’ve got to get there on time.

“The game changes when you get down there. The calls change, the system really changes. There’re things that we definitely need to get better at. I think we’ve definitely had improvements, but we’re not where we need to be.”

Many will point the finger at Matt Canada for the offense’s inability to cash in when the field gets short, but it also falls on the decision making of Pickett. This is an aspect of the game he knows needs to improve.

“It’s going to continue to get better. I’m nowhere near where I want to be or where I need to be.” Pickett said. “It’s a day at a time and like I said, there’s things that we liked that I’ve done that I can continue to improve on, and there’s things that I need to get a lot better at. It’s really known what those are, find that out and then go attack on that.”

When it comes down to specifics, getting more players, or certain players, involved more would certainly help. A player who drew several targets in the red-zone last Sunday, and could be a more focal point of the offense in the red-zone, is Pat Freiermuth.

“He’s another guy that can get a lot more involved.” Pickett said about the second year tight end out of Penn State. “That’s something that we’ll look at, we’ll continue to do. The targets we had to him, we had the one PI [pass interference] and then we just missed on the one back shoulder, but it’s something that we’ve got to keep working at. Those were two good opportunities, but I think we could definitely get more.”

Throughout Pickett’s time as the team’s starting quarter, it has been a constant state of self evaluation for the first round draft pick. What is going right, and what is going wrong. Either way, during this evaluation process Pickett has seen first-hand just how different the NFL is compared to the college game.

“It’s tighter windows, obviously, in the NFL, and you have to know how to throw each ball differently. You can’t throw the same ball for every route or every situation. So, it’s just learning that and timing with the guys. There were a lot of timing throws out there in the past couple of weeks that I don’t think we would have been making earlier in the year with the less time I had with these guys. It’s something we’re going to continue to build on, but definitely have seen improvement so far.”

When it comes to the speed of the league, and the smaller windows, it makes you wonder if this surprised the top quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL Draft?

“Yeah, it’s definitely faster.” Pickett admitted. “Definitely tighter windows. I came in with high expectations. Obviously, it definitely met those. I have to be on point, the guys have to be on point with where they’re getting in depth-route wise and timing and all that stuff. It all works together, so if one guy’s a little off, it probably won’t go our way. That’s what we’re trying to get.”

As for the team’s Week 11 opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, Pickett is preparing for them to bring the heat and try to rattle him into mistakes.

“You’ve got to be prepared. The Saints did more than we expected.” said Pickett. “Going into this one, I’m going to expect pressure, expect them to come after me and then adjust from there. I think having last week’s experience will definitely help us and help myself to have a plan in going in to attack them. Whichever way they attack us, we’ll have an answer for it. We’re taking it a day at a time in our prep for that.”

The Steelers’ offense is a work-in-progress, and a lot of the success, or lack thereof, will be based on how much the offense relies on the rookie signal caller to win them games. The recipe for success was shown, and implemented, in Week 10. Run the football and protect the ball. The question now becomes can they do it again, and can Pickett make teams pay when the offense reaches the red-zone?

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for Cincinnati at Acrisure Stadium in Week 11.