The success of the Steeler's 2023 season is heavily dependent on quarterback Kenny Pickett. As training camp news continues to trickle in, you may have come across videos of Pickett throwing contested catches to George Pickens...
...or dropping it in the bucket to Najee Harris.
Is that Najee Harris or Randy Moss? I can’t tell? pic.twitter.com/MAMm7QOvw0— Baku (@Mazursky8895) August 2, 2023
The buzz from these videos is a result of Pickett getting as many reps as needed as the starting QB to prepare for the season. A long series of decisions got us to this exciting point and it starts before Pickett ever became a Steeler with the signing of Mitch Trubisky.
Why Mitch Trubisky was the perfect bridge QB
Several factors played into Trubisky being the correct choice for the Steelers in free agency after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. Trubisky was young, affordable, and healthy, with enough experience to be a starting quarterback option when needed and enough time spent as a backup to understand he wasn’t being signed as a long-term solution. But the ego to step up when your number is called and to sit down when it’s not may be his biggest asset to the Steelers
With Trubisky on board heading into the 2022 draft, it gave the Steelers the flexibility to draft a quarterback for the future without being forced to. Once Pickett was drafted the Steelers had the option of letting him learn behind Trubisky or starting him immediately. Training camp reps and preseason games showed that Trubisky was the starter, making Pickett earn the job. As the Steelers had the youngest offense in the NFL it made sense to give the veteran a go before throwing Pickett to the wolves.
An uninspiring start sends Trubisky to the bench
As we know, Trubisky started the first four uninspiring games and then was replaced at halftime against the New York Jets on Oct. 2 by Pickett. That was not the last decision made concerning Trubisky and Pickett — far from it.
Pickett would be knocked out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Oct. 16 with a concussion. Trubisky came on in relief and played his best football in years with 9-of-12 passing for 144 yards and one touchdown earning a Passer Rating of 142.4. As a reference, Pickett’s highest PR of his 13 games was 90.9. After beating Tampa Bay the Steelers’ record was 2-4 and it would have been very easy to stick with the veteran after that strong performance to try and salvage the season. By reinstating Pickett as the starter for the next game it removed the distraction of a quarterback controversy allowing him to continue developing without worrying about his job.
The same scenario would play out again when Pickett was concussed against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 11. While Trubisky’s relief effort against the Ravens included three interceptions that ultimately doomed the Steelers’ chances in the two-point loss, his 73.1 Passer Rating that day, not much different from Pickett’s season average of 76.7. Pickett was not available the next week when the Steelers played the Carolina Panthers and Trubisky had another strong performance with a PR of 100.4.
A victory over the Panthers brought the Steelers’ season record to 6-8. With three games left to play and victories needed in each to have any chance of making the playoffs, it would have been easy to stick with the veteran off of the solid Carolina outing. Again, the Steelers sent Trubisky back to the bench and put Pickett in as the starter. He engineered a pair of last-minute game-winning touchdown drives, as the Steelers won their final three games but came up short of the playoffs. If Trubisky had any notion that he might beat Pickett for the 2023 starting job, those late-game heroics squashed that idea.
There’s no ‘i’ in team
Trubisky has a rare ego that was able to handle being named the starter at the beginning of the season and getting benched quickly, then twice play good football in relief only to be sent back to the bench each time. Certainly, there were opportunities to whine and moan and sulk and cause distractions to the team, but because the Steelers chose the right bridge quarterback we didn’t hear about any such behavior. After the disappointment of the season, Trubisky said he regretted signing so quickly with the Steelers on the first day of free agency.
While many felt he was upset with the Steelers and expected him to be gone, the Steelers made yet another good decision and extended his contract. Keeping the same quarterback roster again allows Pickett to focus on developing without any distraction from worrying about losing his job. Trubisky’s value to the team is more than what he does when he is playing. He has been complimented by teammates for how much he helps them in practice and on the sidelines. He has embraced his role as a veteran backup and the Steelers are better off for it.