PITTSBURGH – The Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted – a player, very confident and a competitive winner who led the University of Pittsburgh to the ACC title two years ago – it’s not always Kenny Pickett who takes the role.
More than a full season into Pickett’s career as an NFL starter, he’s still a major work in progress. Almost in the first three parts of the game, when consistency, accuracy, and rhythm seem to be difficult.
Things change in the final 15 minutes. Happy feet that sometimes show a quiet pocket. The touch that would leave him for a while comes back. And his quarterback rating — and results — skyrocket.
“He’s amazing in the fourth quarter,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Men, they wake up at that time.”
The key for Pittsburgh (5-3) if it wants to stay in the middle of the AFC North race is finding a way to contain Pickett’s magic in the final frame to extend it to the first three quarters. They will get another chance Sunday when Green Bay (3-5) visits Acrisure Stadium.
“It’s consistency,” Pickett said. “We’ve shown we can do it, but we don’t always do it in situations where the lead could have been bigger going into the fourth, when we shouldn’t have won in the fourth.”
Not that it has affected. Four of Pittsburgh’s five wins this season have come in games leading up to the fourth. However, the Steelers continue to find a way to escape when things get tough thanks to a defense that has taken the most chances in the league and a quarterback who only seems to be the cornerstone when he needs to be.
It succeeds instead.
“As long as you find ways to win, that’s all that matters,” Pickett said.
The same goes for Green Bay first-year quarterback Jordan Love, who bounced back from five scoreless performances by throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown and no picks against the Rams last Sunday.
Like Pickett, Love oversees an offense that has continued problems. Unlike Pickett, love is often the cause of his team’s problems. The win over Los Angeles was Love’s first game without an interception since Week 2. And now he faces a defense that ranks third in the NFL in takeaways (16).
“They do a good job of creating chaos and creating turnovers and the key for us is not to let that happen in the game,” Love said.
Steelers wide receiver George Pickens played down the idea that he was upset after beating Tennessee, even though cameras caught him looking angry after teammate Diontae Johnson’s fumble in the fourth quarter.
Maybe, but there’s little doubt Pickens wants to get involved after just three catches for 21 yards over the last two games after 4.5 receptions for 82.5 yards in Pittsburgh’s first six games.
“He’s an amazing player,” Pickett said. “Circling him, getting him to do other things, not being a target where he can rely on being in one place is a start.”
RELIANCE ON ROOKIES
With the youngest team in the NFL, the Packers have been relying heavily on their rookie class. Those rookies will try to build on what they established against the Rams.
Tight end Luke Musgrave scored his first career goal and Anthony Johnson Jr. scored his first of the game. Carrington Valentine had three passes protected, and defensive end Karl Brooks had two more. Anders Carlson made 2 of 3 field goal attempts. Lukas Van Ness had a losing streak. Dontayvion Wicks lost a fumble, and had four catches for 49 yards. Emanuel Wilson had a 31-yard run.
Jayden Reed had just three catches for 19 yards in the game, but has a team-high 333 receiving yards this season.
The rushing defense has been one of Green Bay’s biggest weaknesses during Matt LaFleur’s five-year tenure, but the Packers have made strides in that area over the past few weeks.
The Packers gave up just 62 yards on 31 carries in a 24-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 29. They followed that up by allowing 68 yards on 26 carries in their victory over the Rams.
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada will be on the sidelines for the second straight game. The club moved Canada out of the coach’s box in an effort to give Canada some perspective and allow more collaboration. Early results were encouraging. The Steelers rushed for a season-high 166 yards and scored a touchdown for the first time this season.
“His comments were positive,” Tomlin said. “And, we will continue to work in this area. And we’ll probably keep changing things to keep improving. “