Kenny Pickett’s first Steelers game was a pretty good one. Pickett, who never went to a Steelers game during his five years at Pitt, threw the game-winning touchdown on Saturday night as Pittsburgh defeated Seattle in its preseason opener.
During the first two weeks of training camp, it appeared that Pickett was destined to his spend his rookie season holding a clipboard. That still may be how it plays out, but following his performance on Saturday night, it’s anything but a guarantee. If nothing else, Pickett has created a very short leash on Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, the quarterbacks who are ahead of him on the team’s official depth chart.
We’ll dig deeper into the Steelers’ quarterback situation in a moment, but first, here’s an overall look at the Steelers’ current depth chart entering the final week of training camp.
Trubisky entered Saturday night as the Steelers’ starting quarterback, and he remains the team’s starter entering the final week of camp. Trubisky went 4 of 7 passing for 63 yards in two series of work while directing the Steelers’ first scoring drive. He showed impressive awareness and field vision on his 13-yard touchdown pass to Gunner Olszewski that gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead.
Rudolph entered the game on the Steelers’ third possession. He went 9 of 15 for 93 yards in three full series of work that included the best throw of the night for either team, a 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie George Pickens. On his next drive, Rudolph led the Steelers on a 17-play, 81-yard drive. Rudolph nearly threw a pick before completing a pair of passes as Pittsburgh closed in on another score. He then came close to throwing his second touchdown before Seahawks cornerback Mike Jackson helped pry the ball out of Miles Boykin’s grasp. Pittsburgh ultimately settled for a field goal and a 17-3 lead.
Pickett played the entire second half and led the Steelers on a pair of scoring drives. On his first drive, Pickett led the offense on a 7-play, 75-yard drive that was punctuated by his three-yard touchdown pass to running back Jaylen Warren, who for the game tallied 74 total yards on 10 touches. The lead swelled to eight points when Pickett hit fellow rookie Connor Heyward for the two-point conversion.
With the score tied, Pickett and the Steelers’ offense took over from their own 5-yard-line with 5:59 left. Pickett moved the offense into Seahawks territory before he took a sack on a fourth-and-one play. Rookie Mark Robinson’s forced fumble on the next play gave Pickens a second chance to win the game in regulation. He took full advance by hitting Tyler Vaughns for the game-winning score with three seconds left.
Aside from his impressive 13 of 15 passing performance, Pickett’s scrambling ability and as his ability to keep his poise in pressure situations was notable. Pickett’s performance Saturday night not only confirmed Mike Tomlin’s recent comments that the Steelers have three viable options at quarterback, it revealed that the Steelers’ quarterback battle is anything but settled.
Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick took in Saturday’s game from the sideline. With three of their top players out, the Steelers’ defense gave up large chucks of real estate on the ground, something that was a common theme during the 2021 season. All told, Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 159 yards and a touchdown on 26 yards, with most of that damage being done by Seahawks backs DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer.
Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t much better, as it allowed Geno Smith and Drew Lock to complete a combined 70% of their throws with two touchdown passes. That total would have been higher if not for several breakups in the end zone by Tre Norwood, a second-year player that figures to play a considerable role in Pittsburgh’s secondary this season.
The biggest positive from the Steelers’ defense was the play of rookie linebacker Mark Robinson, whose strip-sack and fumble recovery set up the game-winning score. The biggest negative also included an inside linebacker: Devin Bush. After a disappointing 2021 season that saw him fail to make many splash plays, Bush failed to register a single tackle and was oftentimes a spectator on several plays that were in his area.
An All-Pro returner in New England, Olszewski made his mark on offense on Saturday night. He caught the game’s first touchdown and finished the game as Pittsburgh’s leading receiver. The biggest special teams play of the night was submitted by Steven Sims, whose 38-yard punt return helped set up the Steelers’ second touchdown of the game. Sims’ then ripped off a 38-yard run on a jet sweep that helped set up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the second half.