Pittsburgh Steelers second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett will miss at least the next few games after undergoing ankle surgery their Week 13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Moaning and groaning about injuries doesn’t change that fact, and Mitch Trubisky is now the next man up. Trubisky doesn’t excite many fans — not in a good way anyway.
Could Trubisky temporarily taking over the reins be a positive thing for the Steelers and their young quarterback? What has held Pickett back as much as anything could be a reluctance to take chances with the football. Trubisky has a reputation for being a bit more reckless. Observing Trubisky could allow Pickett and the Steeler coaches to learn lessons, good and bad, from a less conservative style of play.
Winning through ball security
Ball security has been a staple of the winning formula for the Steelers since the bye week last year. Looking at the 20 games since last year’s bye, Pickett has thrown only five interceptions, helping the Steelers to a 13-7 record. Pickett hasn’t fumbled over that stretch either, despite being sacked 38 times. The Steelers are an amazing 12-4 when Pickett doesn’t turn the ball over and 1-3 when he does. That’s a hard correlation to ignore. His five interceptions happened in four games, having thrown two against San Francisco. Injuries have knocked Pickett out of four games since that bye. He may be better at protecting the ball than he is at protecting himself.
While supreme ball security has been the way the Steelers have been winning games, is this conservative style the only way for the current Steelers to win? Enter Trubisky to help us find the answer.
The ghost of Trubisky's past
I wouldn’t be surprised if someone read this article’s title, skipped the article to go straight to the comment section with their answer to the question. “I’ll tell you what to expect, interceptions!” Trubisky has been tagged by many as a pick machine. Steelers fans find it hard to forget that when he came on in relief of Pickett against the Ravens last year, Trubisky threw three interceptions and the Steelers lost 16-14. To make it worse, all three were on Baltimore’s end of the field with the Steelers already in field goal range on two of them. Fans are an unforgiving lot, and it can certainly be understood when they blame Trubisky for that two-point loss.
But a lesson can be learned even from performances like that one. The Ravens scored only 3 points off of Trubisky’s picks. The Steelers lost out on opportunities for points on all of them. A little research shows that when Trubisky took his first snap that day the Steelers were trailing 10-0 after the Ravens scored their only touchdown on a 48-yard drive following a 17-yard Pressley Harvin punt. After Trubisky was done throwing to purple players, Chris Boswell would have a 40-yard field goal blocked and then the defense would allow a fourth-quarter eight-minute field goal drive that provided the winning points. As is usually the case, it was a team effort but the quarterback will always be the focal point and Trubisky didn’t do enough to take that focus away from his costly picks. The turnovers didn’t put the game out of reach; even three of them could have been overcome that day by better special teams play and a defensive stop.
Mitch Trubisky’s forecast
Trubisky’s style of taking more chances coupled with a recent three-interception game might have fans shielding their eyes for the next few weeks. A look at his career stats shows that the fear may be over-hyped. In the 54 games where Trubisky has attempted more than 20 passes, he has just 12 multi-interception stat lines. 80 percent of the time his games have one or less. While turnovers can be killers, one per game doesn’t necessarily dictate the outcome.
Projecting 30 pass attempts per game over the remaining five games and applying his career rate of touchdowns and interceptions yields a forecast for Trubisky of six touchdowns and four interceptions. Those numbers exactly match what Pickett has done through 12 games this year. If the Steelers could win games with that ratio before Trubisky, they should be able to win games at roughly the same rate with him. Perhaps the Steelers and Pickett learn that taking risks and failing can be overcome.
Trubisky won’t be perfect, but it’s easier to take notice of mistakes when others make them. Learning from others’ mistakes could be the only way for Pickett to learn as he is too cautious to make his own mistakes to learn from. This caution could be directed from the coaches. Maybe it was acquired in Steelers training camp, when every day ended with the Seven Shots segment, where every day at the 2-yard line, Pickett would face his share of the one-play reps against the league’s highest-paid defense with then-healthy talent at every level. That could certainly make a young quarterback unsure of himself.
There’s most likely going to be some ups and downs to the offense with Trubisky at the helm. Maybe the ups open some eyes that taking chances isn’t any worse than never taking chances. Maybe the downs don’t turn out to be the nail in the coffin for the Steelers’ season.