Ben Roethlisberger began his starter run in Week 3 of the 2004 season. A Tommy Maddox injury led to that seminal switch. Eighteen years later, the Steelers’ new first-round quarterback prospect looks like he will need to wait longer.
Although some pro-Kenny Pickett chants broke out at Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game, the No. 20 overall pick will not replace Mitch Trubisky. While acknowledging Trubisky can be more aggressive with downfield throws, Tomlin said he is exercising patience with his quarterback (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor) and offensive coordinator.
“I’m not happy with much of anything when we just lost a game, but I’m also experienced enough to see the big picture, that we are still very much in development,” Tomlin said, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, when asked about OC Matt Canada‘s play-calling. “I’m going to exercise appropriate patience and continue to teach and ask the guys to continue to learn in an effort to continue to push this train down the track and get better.”
This does not represent a logical week to make a switch. Following Thursday’s Browns matchup, however, a transition window opens. Trubisky’s play will dictate how much longer he has as Pittsburgh’s starter, though Pickett’s development may be a bigger factor at this point.
Pittsburgh’s offense struggled during Roethlisberger’s final season, ranking 25th in DVOA. It has offered two low-wattage performances this year. Trubisky, who has attempted 15 throws at or behind the line of scrimmage this season, enters Week 3 averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. Excluding Dak Prescott‘s one-game sample, that mark ranks as the league’s worst. Neither Chase Claypool nor second-round pick George Pickens have surpassed 30 receiving yards in a game this season.
Trubisky is not expected to keep his job throughout this season, but his two sub-200-yard performances magnify Pickett’s development. The Steelers have a Week 9 bye. Although Trey Lance, Jordan Love and Patrick Mahomes are exceptions, with their teams planning longer NFL onramps, every first-round quarterback chosen from 2017-21 had been elevated into the starting lineup by Week 10. (That list expands to 2012 if Paxton Lynch and Johnny Manziel are excluded.) With it being more norm than exception for QBs to begin their starter runs by October of their rookie year — Trubisky took over in Chicago in October 2017 — how long Pickett waits looks like it will be rather important to the Steelers’ contention prospects.
The Steelers promoted Canada from quarterbacks coach to OC last year. He replaced Randy Fichtner. Pittsburgh ranks 30th in total offense, and Najee Harris is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Even Trubisky called on Canada to be more aggressive, though the second-year OC has not yet worked with an above-average quarterback or much offensive line talent. The offense’s performance Thursday in Cleveland certainly will be a hot-button topic.
“Call concepts to get receivers there,” Trubisky said, via Pryor, on the subject of downfield passing. “When the coverage dictates that, get them the ball within that. … We like our outside matchups. We’ve got really good receivers. We’ve got really good talent across the board. We’d like to attack all areas of the field and get the ball to our playmakers. So, we could do a little bit better at everything, for sure.”