The Steelers have been leading a charmed life in 2023. Everything has broken Pittsburgh’s way in the AFC North. The door is WIDE open with Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson out for the season, now the Ravens’ biggest receiving threat in Mark Andrews is done too — it’s just about whether the Steelers can walk through it.
Only problem with this is that it’s tough to make it through that door when this guy is blocking the way.
Kenny Pickett has been really, really bad. All season long Pittsburgh have won in spite of their quarterback play, not because of it. On any given week the best you can hope for from Pickett is that he doesn’t do much of anything — and more often than not he obliges. Through 10 starts this season he’s only thrown six touchdowns to four interceptions, failing to move the ball through the air as well, averaging a paltry 6.1 yards-per-attempt on the year, good for 35th in the NFL among quarterbacks with over 200 passing attempts.
The blessing for Steelers fans is that their passing game has been allowed to be an afterthought this season. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren have been running the ball so well as a one-two punch that it’s allowed them to forget Pickett exists, which he’s happy to oblige by being little more than a ball protection device in the backfield who rarely turns the ball over, but that’s it.
We saw on Sunday what happens when teams are able to key in on the run and dare Pickett to beat them with his arm. To be fair, Cleveland has a really good defense — but that doesn’t excuse Pickett managing to only throw for 106 yards on 28 attempts.
Pittsburgh can’t keep turning to Pickett if the Steelers want to try and really contend in the AFC North and try to win this thing. It’s at least worth trying to see if Mitchell Trubisky can be the spark the team needs, even if the evidence points to it being unlikely. At the very least it adds some accountability to the process, which doesn’t seem to be in place right now on the offensive side of the ball.
Here are a few reasons switching to Trubisky might actually work for Pittsburgh.
No. 1: Trubisky’s arm changes the depth of the offense
Pickett’s inherent lack of arm strength is a drawback in this offense. He’s not able to push the ball downfield to receivers with regularity, and this has particularly hurt Diontae Johnson this season.
In Trubisky’s lone appearance this season he had an average depth of target (ADOT) of 8.7 yards (down from 9.3 a year ago). This is still vastly above Pickett’s 6.6 ADOT. It’s clear Canada is more comfortable calling deeper routes with Trubisky under center than Pickett.
That’s important, because it means these plays can better get behind linebackers who are stacking the box to stop the run. The threat of these deeper throws alone makes it tougher to key in on Harris and Warren, opening up the offense more.
No. 2: Trubisky is MUCH more accurate
The biggest selling point for Pickett is that he doesn’t turn the ball over much, but that’s really a half-truth. While it’s true that the second-year QB doesn’t throw many interceptions, he also doesn’t throw on target consistently enough to give up contested interceptions.
In 2023 Pickett’s bad throw rating is a stunning 17 percent. He’s only on target with 64.6 percent of passes this season, which is actually a regression from a year ago. Meanwhile in 2023 Trubisky has been on target with 87.1 percent of his passes, and has a lower bad pass rate of 12.9 percent.
In short: Trubisky is going to allow for receivers to make more plays, and that might counteract an extra interception or two.
No. 3: Trubisky moves the ball better through the air
The successful throw metric is really interesting to see when it comes to Pickett and Trubisky. This is essentially an awareness measure that indicates if a quarterback is simply trying to complete any pass, or complete a pass that fills the team’s goal of moving the ball for first downs.
Right now the Steelers need a quarterback who can allow them to get consistent points. The defense is good enough to hold its own (ranking 7th in the NFL in points against), but that’s a moot point if you’re 28th in the league in scoring.
Kenny Pickett’s successful throw rating is a paltry 38.7 percent this season. Even when he does complete a pass it has very little bearing on moving the ball downfield. Meanwhile Trubisky is a full 15.2 percent better at 52.9 percent of successful passes. That is a significant difference, and at the very least would lead to more field goals.
That might seem like cold comfort, but the margins here are very thing. One extra field goal a game would propel the Steelers into scoring more than they give up — a luxury they haven’t had this season.
Anything is better than the status quo
If the Steelers want to win football games right now while their window is open in the AFC North then they need to try something. There’s no guarantee a switch at QB would do it, but we can be sure they won’t keep coasting along and winning games with Pickett under center right now.
With two games against the Bengals and one against the Ravens on their remaining slate these need to be wins, and at the moment it’s become too easy to stop the run and shut down Pittsburgh’s offense. A new set of eyes under center is key, and making the change could be the shot in the arm that this team needs to close out the regular season, then see what happens in the playoffs.