Being a starting quarterback in the NFL isn’t an easy task. The game moves a million miles an hour, and decisions must be made in a split second. If you happen to be a rookie quarterback, you can only imagine the pressure on you every time you snap the football. The decision making aspect of the position is enough to make your head spin, but when it comes to keeping your teammates happy it throws in an all new wrinkle into the equation.
For Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, he is getting more comfortable with the role he has with his team; however, he is learning if you don’t get everyone involved it can lead to disgruntled teammates and not-so-friendly headlines.
The player Pickett hasn’t been able to get the ball to, who was often targeted with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, is Dionate Johnson. Johnson has struggled to get into a rhythm with Pickett, and, according to the rookie, it is because of how the defense is playing the Pro Bowl receiver.
“If he’s getting doubled, man, it’s tough to get him the ball, and they know how great of a player he is.” Pickett said. “So, I think if we move him around and don’t keep him in the same spot, I think that’s a way to get him some more opportunities.”
When asked if the opposing defense is scheming to take Johnson out of the game, Pickett agreed wholeheartedly.
“100 percent.” said Pickett. “Yeah, if they’re playing man with a safety overtop leaning to his side or they’re clouding a lot to his side, they’re definitely scheming to take him away.”
Johnson has visibly shown frustration during games if the targets to come his way, but he never yells on the sideline or pouts. He simply wants to make sure he and Pickett are still on the same page.
“He’s a smart player. We’ll come off the field and he’s like, “They were over the top,” or, “They’re doubling them up.” So, he knows, and he’s a great player and he wants to help us win. We’ll get him in some spots to be successful.”
This is when the pressure is on a quarterback to not force passes to a player like Johnson, but to spread the football around. And it isn’t as if Pickett doesn’t have other weapons at his disposal on almost every play. One of those weapons, who he has a strong connection with thus far, is fellow rookie George Pickens.
“He’s a great receiver. We talk all the time about how he’s evolving into a complete receiver and doing more things and running different routes and having a full route tree that corners have to deal with. You become a lot tougher to cover when you have all different ways that you can go and you’re not just a deep ball threat, which he’s not. He does a lot of great of things for us at intermediate level. I think as his game continues to grow, we’ll continue to grow as an offense.
“He’s the best athlete probably that I’ve played with. Just the freak things that he does, the catches he makes that are so nonchalant to him, but I kind of look around like, “I’ve never seen that before in my life.” He’s a unique guy that can do a lot of great things. We’ve just got to continue to get him the football.”
With the Steelers trading Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears, you’d think getting the ball to Johnson and/or Pickens would be enough, but it isn’t. You have to also throw in tight end Pat Freiermuth as another viable weapon who is worthy of more targets.
Pickett knows what kind of asset it is to have someone like Freiermuth on top of players like Johnson and Pickens.
“That’s kind of the game that defenses have to play. Who are you going to take away? Where am I going to be going with the football with the guys that we have? My job is to read the defense and get the guy that’s open, so that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Many people who have played football at a high level will tell you how some pass catchers will come off the field and say they are always open. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s up to the quarterback to decipher how to not just spread the football around but also to get it to the player with the best matchups.
Pickett has shown a willingness to do so, and it has led to decreased targets for Johnson. Will this trend continue? If it does, but the Steelers win, all is well. But if the Steelers don’t target Johnson and they lose, you can expect to hear more about how the high priced receiver probably needs more targets coming his way.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Indianapolis Colts in Week 12 on Monday Night Football.