The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t exactly been a big-play offense this year—not that they haven’t necessarily taken shots at them. They’ve come more liberally with Mitch Trubisky under center, however, particularly in his two cameo appearances since his benching as a starter.
The veteran quarterback has felt much freer, or so it seems, to take some deep shots down the field, or at least do so with greater abandon. We saw the pros and cons of that in his performance today with some deep-ball connections, some of them to Baltimore Ravens defenders.
But it’s the offense in which rookie wide receiver George Pickens runs best at the moment, so he at least was happy with the development. “It feels good”, he admitted after the game via transcript about seeing the offense pushing the ball down the field more.
“That’s kind of what we preach on how the offense is. You’ve just got to execute those plays”, he added. Trubisky also had a deep connection or two with Diontae Johnson as well. “Anytime you get an opportunity, you want to seize the moment”.
Pickens was only targeted three times in the game—once more often than last week—but he caught all three passes for 78 yards. Two of those pass attempts were deep shots down the sidelines, the first going for 42 yards to set up a first and goal and the second a 25-yard connection to flip the field into Ravens territory.
The rookie now has 13 receptions of 20 or more yards on the year, all of them considered ‘deep’ pass attempts of 15-plus air yards based on the official play-by-play transcripts. The 42-yard grab his now his longest of the season, surpassing the 36-yard spectacle against the Cleveland Browns.
Trubisky has been the passer now on five of his 13 deep completions on the year that have gone for 20 or more yards. He only has eight of them with Pickett, who has about seven or eight games’ worth of playing time on the year when you factor in the benching and the time lost due to injury.
There are two dynamics at play here. One is that the Steelers need to be more effective in taking those deep shots down the field—and ideally rely less on hero-ball plays from the likes of Pickens to finish them off.
The other dynamic is the need for Pickens to continue to expand his repertoire in a convincing and satisfying way so that his targets do not remain so limited. He is still asked primarily to run deep routes and in any offense that’s going to be a lower-volume route.
It’s easier to happy with a three-target game when it gets you 78 yards, but that’s not going to happen every week. There’s still work to do, as Trubisky said after the game, and not a lot of time to do it at least as far as the current season is concerned.