It wasn’t Joe Namath, but Kenny Pickett sounded a little like Broadway Joe when asked about the Steelers‘ odds entering Sunday’s game against the Bills, which also will be Pickett’s first NFL start.
You may have heard that the Steelers are 14-point underdogs for the Week 5 game in Buffalo, making it the first time Pittsburgh has been this big of an underdog since facing the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX, way back in January 1996.
“You guys, everyone else thinks we’re underdogs,” Pickett said on Wednesday. “We don’t, so we’re gonna go in there with some confidence. We know how great we can be when we’re detailed and we execute at a high level. That’s something that we need to take care of during the week we won’t have a shot.
“It’s the details. It’s the little things. Guys running at the right depth. I’ve got to be on time, give a great ball, (and) they’ll make the plays. The line will protect; they’ve been doing an unbelievable job all year. So I have a ton of confidence in those guys. So it’s really everyone doing their (job) and we’ll be OK.”
Namath’s Jets were 18-point underdogs when they faced the seemingly immortal Colts in Super Bowl III. The AFL’s Jets shocked the NFL champion Colts by forcing five turnovers, running the ball at will and getting a highly efficient game from Namath, who was named MVP after leading the Jets to a 16-7 upset for the ages.
The Steelers will have to have a similar performance if they are going to defeat the Bills, who currently boast the league’s second-ranked scoring defense and fifth-ranked scoring offense. Pittsburgh’s defense, led by Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, will have to find a way to contain Josh Allen, who owns a 2-1 career record against the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offensive line, along with clearing running lanes for Najee Harris, will have to hold its own against Buffalo’s formidable pass rush, led by Von Miller and Gregory Rousseau.
Pittsburgh will also need a solid performance from Pickett, who ran for two touchdowns while completing nearly 77% of his passes in last Sunday’s loss to the Jets. Pickett replaced Mitchell Trubisky — who spent last season as Allen’s backup in Buffalo — prior to the start of the second half.
“Absolutely,” Pickett said when asked if Trubisky’s experience in Buffalo can help prepare him for Sunday’s game. “To a degree. I think when guys try to get too cute with it, looking for signals and certain things, I can kind of get outside the frame of what I need to do with my job. So I’m gonna take some small things here and there, but at the end of the day, trust what I see, trust my reason, and go out there and play fast.”
While nothing can really compare to what he’ll face in Buffalo, Pickett said his day-to-day preparation, starting in the preseason, has helped ease his transition to starter. How the Steelers practice has also made Pickett’s in-game experiences easier.
“I’ve felt like some of the harder looks I’ve had have been in practice,” Pickett said. “Because of that, the game kind of slows down for me when I’m in there.”
More on practice, Pickett enjoys the back and forth between himself and coach Mike Tomlin, a former defensive coordinator who in 2002 won a Super Bowl ring as the Buccaneers secondary coach. Pickett said that Tomlin’s communication with him didn’t change on Wednesday despite his change on the depth chart.
“He doesn’t change,” Pickett said of Tomlin. “That’s the good news about him. He’s very honest, he’s very upfront about everything, and that’s how I like to be. So the relationship with everyone on the team is really good because there’s no hiding, there’s no hidden agendas. I’d say he’s very upfront with everything. So it’s been awesome.”
Pickett was lauded by teammates and Tomlin for bringing a spark to the Steelers offense during the second half of last Sunday’s game. That spark led to a more productive offense, as the Steelers scored two touchdowns in less than 10 minutes after scoring just four touchdowns in the season’s previous 14 quarters.
“I want to raise the level of everyone around me,” Pickett said. “We have so many great players. I’ve got to do my job. I have 100% trust and confidence of every single guy in the huddle will do their job. … Everyone’s just got to own their business, own their job, and we’ll be alright.”