Skip to main content
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Advertising

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Kenny Pickett Symbolizes Change in the Iron City | Scouting Report 

Scouting Report: Without Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the Pittsburgh Steelers have entered unfamiliar territory. After dropping their fourth-consecutive contest with an ineffective pass defense and an anemic ground game, Pittsburgh will seek to find its footing...Key players and strengths and weaknesses for the Bucs' Week 6 opponent 

(AP Photo/Matt Durisko)
(AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

The 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will hit the road in Week Six following a three-game homestand to begin their tour of the AFC North with the 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 16 at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh is 3-12 all-time against Tom Brady, including three AFC Championship game losses. As the Bucs continue to vie for legitimacy as a part of the league's hierarchy and the Steelers search to find their identity, Sunday's clash holds significance for both clubs. Steelers' legendary Head Coach Mike Tomlin's 15-season streak without posting a losing record in Pittsburgh could end. As history will attest in the NFL – desperate teams are dangerous teams.

Pittsburgh entered unfamiliar territory in 2022, in transition following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. A new era begins under Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada, who has tailored the system to Kenny Pickett and his young, supporting cast. At the outset of the 2022 season, the permeating question surrounding the Steelers was who would ultimately be the quarterback of the future? With the 20th overall pick, the Steelers selected Pickett – deemed the most "pro-ready" quarterback by analysts in this year's draft class by analysts – one with whom they shared a stadium. Pickett led the Panthers to an ACC title his senior year. The Heisman Trophy finalist and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner - as the nation's top senior quarterback - passed for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in 13 starts during his final campaign, leading the Panthers to an 11-2 record.

Additionally, the Steelers picked up Mitchell Trubisky on a modest two-year deal as a veteran insurance policy. During the Steelers' Week Four 24-20 home loss to the New York Jets, Pickett made his highly-anticipated debut. After three and a half games, Mike Tomlin opted to bench Trubisky as the club trailed 10-6 in the third quarter against the Jets, turning to the rookie. Trubisky had completed 7-of-13 passes for 84 yards and an interception, thrusting Pickett into action. The Steelers entered the Week Four matchup with the third-fewest first downs and averaged the second-fewest net yards per drive in the league, ushering in change.

Although Pickett's NFL start got off to a puzzling start as he threw an interception to Jets safety Jordan Whitehead on a deep shot downfield, the coach's trust in the 24-year-old signal-caller paid off. Following the pick, Pittsburgh's defense got the ball back courtesy of a Minkah Fitzpatrick interception (his third of the season), which setup Pickett's first NFL touchdown: a one-yard quarterback sneak which gave the team the lead. With Pickett's ability to make plays outside of the pocket using his legs like Trubisky, Pittsburgh's offensive approach has stayed the same. Canada uses the run to set up the play-action pass game. When Pickett does drop back, he has a talented cast to target including George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth.

Last Sunday, the Bills soared to a 38-3 victory over the Steelers. Pittsburgh, which saw Pickett make his first pro start, dropped their fourth consecutive contest. The Steelers struggled in all three phases. Defensively, the unit could not get off the field or generate adequate pressure on Josh Allen (one pressure). The defense accumulated missed tackles in the open-field, leading to chunk plays given up. The absence of perennial Pro Bowler and defensive catalyst, T.J. Watt, cannot be discounted. Watt suffered a pectoral injury in Week One and underwent arthroscopic surgery in his knee last week to repair a previous ailment. James Pierre (1), Cameron Heyward (1), Levi Wallace (2), DeMarvin Leal (2) and Robert Spillane (2) all recorded passes defensed in Week Five, which bolstered the unit, but Josh Allen consistently carved up the Steelers' secondary at will. The Bills' pass-catchers won one-on-one matchups on the outside, resulting in a career-high day for Allen, who passed for 424 yards. He totaled four touchdown passes in the first half as Buffalo cruised to a 31-3 lead before the half marker. Their offense churned with Gabe Davis, Stefon Diggs and Khalil Shakir as the headliners.

Conversely, the Steelers' offense became dormant after a field goal on the opening drive. The Bills' successfully disguised coverages and made Najee Harris and the Steelers' run game non-existent (17 carries, 54 yards), forcing Pickett and cast to become one-dimensional. Faced with the challenge of going up against the NFL's second-ranked scoring defense, overall, Pickett had a solid outing considering. He remained poised in the pocket and thrived off play-action, getting the ball to Pickens (83 yards on six catches). The Steelers' special teams unit continued the trend with a muffed kickoff in the first frame and a missed field goal in the second and third quarters, respectively. On Sunday, Pittsburgh will strive to reinvigorate the squad with a victory over the NFC South crown jewel Buccaneers.

Tackle Everything Sweepstakes

Steelers' Difference-Makers

On this week's edition of the difference-makers list starring Steelers' contributors, these few stand out. Several could have made the compilation, however, these five could help swing the game in Pittsburgh's favor on Sunday afternoon:

QB Kenny Pickett

With the 20th overall pick in this year's draft, the Steelers had their choice of a Ben Roethlisberger successor, and they landed on Kenny Pickett. Widely touted as the most "pro-ready" of the lot, Pickett can create throws outside of the pocket and make defenders miss when he tucks the ball and runs. He is dangerous when going off-script, willing to attack downfield. In his first career start against the Bills, Pickett showcased poise and confidence in the pocket while under duress. Despite notably small hands, Pickett has above-average arm strength and can make throws to all three levels of the field. The Buccaneers will have to effectively set the edge, not providing Pickett with an escape route.

WR George Pickens

After seeing JuJu Smith Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud depart in free agency, Pittsburgh restocked the position group in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, with George Pickens and Calvin Austin III (injured reserve). Pickens possesses an elite catch radius and rare athleticism. He plays with a competitive streak and can contort his body to haul in throws from any angle. Pickens fights through contact on routes and has fortified Pittsburgh's offensive arsenal. With the ability to sink at the top of routes and make defenders miss, Pickens will have to be accounted for by the Bucs' secondary.

DE Cameron Heyward

Future Hall of fame defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is the heartbeat of the Steelers' defense. For the past five seasons, Heyward has received First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition for his dominance on the gridiron. With a devastating long-arm and lethal initial pop, Heyward wreaks havoc. He consistently sniffs plays out and disrupts, gaining leverage on opponents. Regarded as a top 10 defender in the league, Heyward overwhelms guards and centers. He often demands double teams – a testament to his demolition in the trenches. Heyward sets the tone on the Steelers' defense and is a player the Bucs' offense will have to monitor on every snap.

FS Minkah Fitzpatrick

Minkah Fitzpatrick has established himself as one of the top-tier safeties in the league. He accumulated back-to-back All-Pro seasons in 2019 and 2020, including an unforgettable five interception-feat during the former campaign after arriving in Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick is a do-it-all phenom; he can quickly diagnose as a robber, line up in the box, line up deep as a single-high, and deliver earth-shattering hits against an opponent's run game. He is always around the football and Fitzpatrick's versatility is a nightmare for offenses to try and contend with. On every play, you can bet Tom Brady will make the indication of where No. 39 is lined up. Throughout his career with Miami and Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick has tallied 16 interceptions, four touchdowns, 40 passes defensed, 385 combined tackles (258 solo) and five tackles for loss.

WR Diontae Johnson

The Steelers selected Diontae Johnson with the 66th overall pick (third round) of the 2019 NFL Draft and, since, he has become a reliable target in the Steelers' receiving corps. He showcases superb yards-after-catch ability on intermediate routes – averaging over 10 yards per reception throughout his tenure (2019-2021) - and can angle his body to catch balls outside of his frame. Johnson possesses lateral quickness off the line and can stretch the field vertically. He is a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands and one the Buccaneers will have to try to neutralize on Sunday.

Strengths

Here are some ways in which the Steelers have excelled in 2022:

  • George Pickens has 10 receptions and 154 receiving yards (both team-highs). He has become a go-to target for Pickett, bolstering the Steelers' aerial attack. When Pickett has targeted Pickens: 10-12, 154 yards, 0 interceptions, 118.8 passer rating. When Pickett has targeted other receivers: 34-51, 293 yards, 3 interceptions, 57.1 passer rating. The dynamic tandem have formed a synergy that will only grow with added repetition down the stretch.
  • Kenny Pickett had 327 pass yards in Week 5 for the Steelers, the most passing yards in a game by a Pittsburgh rookie since at least 1950 and the most passing yards logged in a first career start by a Pittsburgh quarterback since at least 1950. Granted, the Steelers were forced to pass the football after falling behind early and getting behind the sticks in third-and-long situations. Nonetheless, Pickett commanded the offense with ease.

Weaknesses

Negative factors hindering the outcome of ballgames for Pittsburgh, most notable in 2022:

  • Tom Brady is attacking the seams in 2022 at his highest rate recorded during the Next Gen Stats era, while the Steelers' defense has been vulnerable on such throws. 53.1 percent of Brady's attempts have been thrown down the seams in 2022 (4th in NFL.) Conversely, the Steelers defense is ranked in the bottom three in pass yards, touchdowns, and yards/attempts allowed on passes thrown down the seams in 2022.
  • Without their prize possession, the reigning defensive player of the year in T.J. Watt, the Steelers pass rush has not been the same since he exited Week One with a pectoral injury. Without Watt in the lineup, the Steelers' pressure and sack rate have dropped, having to rely on blitzes to try and compensate. With Watt on the field since 2021, Pittsburgh's numbers were significant: blitz percentage (22.1), pressure percentage (30.5), sack percentage (9.9) and passer rating (81.1). The numbers have declined in his absence: blitz percentage (27.3), pressure percentage (20.1), sack percentage (5.5) and passer rating (96.8).
  • The Steelers defense has struggled through the first five weeks of the 2022 season, coming in at 30th overall in total defense, 30th in points allowed and 30th in pass defense. Tom Brady and company will look to take advantage on Sunday.

New Faces in 2022

C Mason Cole

In March, the Steelers signed free agent offensive lineman Mason Cole to a three-year deal. Cole spent the first three years of his pro career with the Cardinals and played for the Vikings in 2021. In 39 starts throughout his tenure, he worked at both center and guard. Last season for Minnesota, Cole started four games at center, beginning in Week Nine through Week 12. He finished the 2021 season on the Reserve/Injured list and has played a significant role in the club' rebuilt line.

CB Levi Wallace

The Steelers did not address the cornerback room in the draft but did so in free agency, picking up former Bill Levi Wallace. Wallace replaced Joe Haden and added experience to the unit, having played four years in Buffalo. Despite going undrafted out of Alabama, Wallace started 52 games while in a Bills' jersey. Wallace answered the call last season when star corner Tre White suffered a season-ending ACL injury. On 543 cover snaps in 2021, Wallace allowed only 60 targets for 302 yards (61.9 passer rating when targeted). His 0.6 yards per coverage snap ranked seventh best in the NFL. In two game starts, Wallace has posted one interception and four passes defensed for the Steelers, fortifying the back end.

LB Myles Jack

Former Jaguars off-ball linebacker Myles Jack signed a two-year deal with the Steelers, replacing Joe Schobert. During his six years in Jacksonville, Jack was one of the lone bright spots on defense. The 26-year-old was shockingly released in March by the Jaguars after starting 82 games since his second-round selection in 2016 and Jack compiled back-to-back 100 tackle seasons. For Pittsburgh, he has amassed 50 combined tackles in five game starts on the interior of the second level.

Related Content

Latest Headlines

Advertising