The 2023 season was supposed to mark some kind of return to prominence for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At least that’s what the expectations were in western Pennsylvania. After a dominant preseason with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett posting a perfect preseason passer rating, the Steelers players seemed to enjoy the hype.
But after a 14-point loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13, the Steelers appear to be reeling on a short week.
The good feelings about moving on from offensive coordinator Matt Canada are gone.
The Steelers have dropped two out of the last three contests. Despite a very favorable schedule, experts are predicting them to miss the playoffs.
A second consecutive season without playoff football will not sit well with Pittsburgh fans. The Steelers have missed the postseason in consecutive years just twice since the turn of the century.
It’s also been six seasons and counting since the Steelers won a playoff game. That’s the longest drought for the team since it recorded its first postseason victory in 1972.
But the failure to secure a playoff berth is not the doomsday scenario for the 2023 Steelers. It’s entering the 2024 season without Pickett taking positive steps in his development, and the team feeling secure that Pickett is a franchise quarterback.
Steelers QB Kenny Pickett Could Miss 4 Weeks After Ankle Surgery
On top of the humbling loss to the Cardinals, the Steelers lost Pickett to an ankle injury in the second quarter.
Pittsburgh’s Week 13 performance, and thus season, could have been a lot different if Pickett remained healthy for one more play. Immediately after he left, the Steelers failed to convert on a fourth-and-goal opportunity from the 1-yard line.
If that play isn’t Mitch Trubisky’s first action of the game, maybe the Cardinals defense can’t sell out to stop the run.
But Pickett’s injury has far more potential ramifications than just that one play.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reported on December 3 that Pickett will miss 2-4 weeks. The Steelers didn’t place Pickett on injured reserve after he had surgery on December 4. That leaves the door open for Pickett to return before four weeks.
But in the worst case scenario, Pickett will miss four of the last five regular season games. If things fall apart with Trubisky, then it’s not inconceivable to predict the Steelers will be out of the playoff picture by Week 18.
Why push Pickett to come back for a meaningless game even if it’s against an arch rival, the Baltimore Ravens?
Is predicting the Steelers will be eliminated from playoff contention before Week 18 an overreaction from the Cardinals loss? Maybe.
But if losing to the previously 2-10 Cardinals at home is a possibility, then the Steelers can fall to anyone in the entire league, especially with turnover-prone Trubisky behind center.
“This is a Steelers team that has overachieved to get to where it is today,” ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote. “But Sunday’s home loss to one of the worst teams in the league is a reminder that nothing comes easy for the Steelers, who are generally outmanned.
“You can’t assume they’ll beat anybody.”
Is Pickett the Franchise Quarterback for the Steelers?
If Trubisky can’t keep the Steelers in playoff position, it’s possible Pickett has played his final game of the season.
Should that be the case, the Steelers will enter 2024 with a huge question behind center. Is Pickett the future?
His statistics are ugly. He’s thrown for multiple touchdowns just once in 25 career games. That’s unheard of for a first-round quarterback.
He’s regressed in a lot of ways. His accuracy has arguably gotten worse. Pickett’s completion percentage has dropped slightly from his rookie season.
Dulac suggested while appearing on the DVE Morning Show on December 4 that the Steelers considered benching Pickett prior to Week 12.
But Pickett has recorded 7 game-winning drives in 14 career victories. He also excels at taking care of the ball. He has turned the ball over just 4 times in 12 contests this season.
In his only full game without Canada as his offensive coordinator, Pickett completed 72.7% of his passes and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. He looked so much better, one could argue it caused the Steelers to be overconfident entering Week 13.
But one positive game is hardly a large enough sample to claim Pickett is the guy. Even if he returns and plays well in the final weeks of this season, 2-4 games (without Canada) is not a large enough sample either.
After firing Canada following Week 11, the Steelers had two goals the rest of the season — develop Pickett under new offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner and play caller Mike Sullivan and, hopefully, make the playoffs while doing so.
They may not accomplish either goal. Then, the Steelers will have to decide based on a handful of games without Canada, at most, whether to continue with Pickett as their starting quarterback.