Don’t look now, but it looks as if the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is starting to figure things out. Since their Week 9 bye, the Steelers have scored 20, 37, and 24 points for an average of 27 points per game. The offense has started to build around their young players, and there are no two larger than Kenny Pickett and George Pickens.
It should shock no one who follows the Steelers how the offense’s success has also come at a time when Pickens has thrived with Pickett at the helm. Take a look at the numbers for Pickens when Pickett is in the game:
Week 4 (Second Half) vs. NYJ: 4 catches, 71 yards, 4 targets, 27 long
Week 5 at BUF: 6 catches, 83 yards, 8 targets, 29 long
Week 6 vs. TB: 1 catch, 8 yards (Pickett left in 3rd quarter)
Week 7 at MIA: 6 catches, 61 yards 6 targets, 1 TD, 30 long
Week 8 at PHI: 0 catches, 0 yards, 3 targets
Week 10 vs. NO: 3 catches, 32 yards, 4 targets, 14 long
Week 11 vs. CIN: 4 catches, 83 yards, 6 targets, 1 TD, 33 long
Week 12 at IND: 3 catches, 56 yards, 6 targets, 35 long
Now, let’s look at the stats before Pickett took over:
Week 1 at CIN: 1 catch, 3 yards, 3 targets
Week 2 vs. NE: 1 catch, 23 yards, 3 targets
Week 3 at CLE: 3 catches, 39 yards, 7 targets
Week 4 (First Half) vs. NYJ: 2 catches, 31 yards, 2 targets
Many fans will look at the above statistics and see a rookie being eased into the offense. That’s fair, but when you look at the targets, you can’t help but notice the spike once Pickett took over the offense at halftime of Week 4.
Pickens brings something to the offense which the team didn’t have, and that included the time when Chase Claypool was still on the roster. Not only does he have size and speed, but his ability to win contested catches is second-to-none on the current roster. He is everything fans wanted to see from Claypool, yet never did.
How did the Pickett to Pickens connection get so strong? It all started before the 2022 NFL Draft when the two met and developed a friendship.
“I knew of him just throughout just knowing the top guys around the college game. Just crazy impressed with the kind of talent that he is. I was always just like, “Man, I’d love to play with a guy like that on the outside.” Pickett told media Wednesday. “I got lucky enough that we got drafted together, and we were actually on a visit together in Detroit. So, we kind of spent the whole day in Detroit, just kind of talking and stuff outside of football, because obviously, when you’re on a visit, it’s meetings, interviews with the teams, and you’re going through all that stuff.
“But it was cool just to hang out with him and get to know him on a personal level. I actually had his number when he got drafted because we were in a group chat when we were on that Detroit visit, and I called him right away on FaceTime. So, I think right after that viral meme came out of him leaning back, looking at the TV, I think I called him right after that. So, I think it was one of the first to talk to him. It was pretty funny after I saw that, but yeah, we had a great relationship starting there I think, and then it’s just grown since then.”
Of course, Pickett is referring to the viral image of Pickens watching the draft as Claypool, of all people, announced his name in Las Vegas. While it is funny, and has become a sensation among Steelers fans, Pickett sees it as Pickens being unique. And his uniqueness goes beyond what he does off the field.
“George is George, man. He’s so unique and I think that’s what makes his play out there great, because he just is himself and he has that ultra-confidence, and I’m ultra-confident that he’s going to make the play. Same with Diontae. Same with all the guys we have in that receiver room. But he’s a great person, he’s a funny guy to be around and I’m really happy that we’re teammates.”
There is no ignoring the statistics both the offense and Pickens have put up since the bye week, but let’s also not pretend everything has been smooth sailing for the rookie duo. Not only did Pickens have some drops in the game vs. the Colts on Monday Night Football, but Pickett missed Pickens on what would have been an easy touchdown reception. Throughout the game, Pickett was there to help pick up Pickens and get him focused on the next play.
“I’m going to miss throws, and guys are going to drop passes and we’re going to rally behind each other and just get right back to it.” said Pickett. “I told him I’m going to keep throwing him the football and he came up big on that third down, came up big on that two-point conversion. I think if we continue to stick together like that throughout the season, we’ll start to see this thing shift more towards the way we want it to be.”
There is a strong connection between quarterback and wide receiver, but that connection takes time to develop. It doesn’t happen over night. While the Pickett to Pickens connection is developing, you can see flashes of where it can go in big moments.
“I think it shows up in the big-time moments, right?” Pickett said of the connection with his receivers, mainly Pickens. “He knows where I need him to be, I know he’s going to get to where he needs to be, and then I meet him there with the ball. Those big-time moments, those timing routes, where sometimes you’re throwing guys open and they may not look open to the naked eye but with the reps and the confidence that I have that they’re going to be where I want them to be and they know that they’re going to get the football, it kind of comes together that way.
“I was able to build that with Jordan Addison at Pitt. The countless hours that we work together, that all adds to it. We’re trying to play catch up here in between periods and working on getting it. I think we’re definitely taking the right steps towards that, but it takes time and a lot of reps together.”
The Steelers offense remains a work in progress, but there is no denying the potential which resides between these two rookies. Will the Pickett to Pickens connection be something which is talked about for years to come among Steelers fans? That’s the hope, and it certainly is getting going here in Year 1.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13 of the 2022 regular season.