The Buffalo Bills are set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Highmark Stadium. A lot of fans were looking forward to the return of QB2 Mitch Trubisky. Instead, Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is set to make his first NFL start after replacing Trubisky at halftime against the New York Jets last weekend. The snaps were limited (31 to be precise), but let’s hit the film couch and see what to expect.
Bonus time! The return of Skare’s notes. If you feel confident that downloading a random file from a stranger who doesn’t like to go by his real name won’t result in my hacking your computer and stealing your life savings, then feel free to peruse how I felt about every snap. For you less trusting types, you can see my thoughts on seven of Pickett’s 13 passes below, all in GIF format.
It’s the moment Pickett has been waiting for since he was a young boy: His first NFL pass. It’s time to show the world what he’s made of as an professional quarterback. I’m trying to set this up like I’m about to make fun of him for the interception, but as far as debuts go this really isn’t bad at all. It’s a deep drop back for a pretty aggressive downfield throw. The throw floats a bit longer than you might like and it’s a little high, but it hits his guy in the hands and if it were caught it wouldn’t have been shocking. The pass is roughly 50 air yards, so truly this is a pretty good first shot.
Our second pass to highlight Pickett’s debut looks like an option play, and he wisely decides against taking an ill-advised early shot. He’s decisive on the pitch and delivers it well. The result for the team isn’t much better than Pickett taking the hit, but it’s a heads-up move.
A trend I think you might pick up on is that Pickett’s passes generally appear designed to have a single read or at least very limited progressions. Here, it looks like a designed rollout with tight end Pat Freiermuth the intended target. It gains 14 yards, so it might sound silly to pick on the result—but I’m going to do it. There’s a clear passing lane to Freiermuth and better ball placement allows the tight end to turn upfield and get some extra yards.
Another trend you might notice—but I’m pointing out now just to make sure—is that sometimes Pickett intensely telegraphs his target. He’s not scanning around the field pre-snap, he just seems to be checking on his intended target. It doesn’t get better after the snap, as he’s locked in right away. So much so, in fact, that he does this tiny little bob with the ball and creates an incredibly unconvincing play-action fake. The ball is delivered quickly and accurately, but there’s a chance that a better sell on the play leads to more cushion by the defenders and perhaps some yards after catch (YAC).
What’s this? He’s locked in again right from the snap. Not that there’s a ton of time to even pretend to scan the field, but this is pretty obvious where he’s going with the ball. Rookie wide receiver George Pickens gets some YAC on the play.
If the offensive line protects Pickett better, I think this is a touchdown. The ball placement is a bit behind, so Freiermuth can’t maneuver and make the defender miss. I’m not blaming Pickett, because he makes the throw knowing he’s about to hit the turf. This would be a good play for any quarterback. Great poise by Pickett.
This is promising. He’s locked in on the left-hand side, doesn’t like what he sees and brings his eyes to the right side. He has a window to make this throw, but it sails a bit with the pressure. Just like his first professional pass, it bounces up and is picked off.
Pickett performed well for a rookie quarterback who likely wasn’t preparing to play meaningful snaps. That said, qualifiers exist for a reason. Pickett may have gotten away with some throws against the Jets’ defensive backs who were facing away from the quarterback. The Bills do like to have their eyes forward in zone coverage, and Pickett may want to learn to avoid telegraphing throws as soon as possible.
Buffalo should be on alert for quick passes with single reads. Mixing coverage to try and confuse Pickett could go a long way toward creating some defensive opportunities. On paper, this matchup heavily favors the Bills.