Kenny Pickett is officially the most popular man in Pittsburgh.
On Sunday afternoon, when the Steelers lost their home opener to the New England Patriots, there were at least two occasions when the CBS broadcast microphones picked up the crowd at Acrisure Stadium chanting “KEN-NY! KEN-NY !” and expressing their desire to pull Mitchell Trubisky in favor of the rookie quarterback. And he wasn’t just a fan — a longtime Steelers beat reporter Ed Bouchette tweeted he also saw a lot from Trubisky.
The problem every team has is when they’re struggling offensively and there’s a well-known or legendary quarterback on the bench behind the starter. And to be fair, offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been criticized a lot.
That said, the fans weren’t chanting for someone else to replace him him. Against New England, the Steelers went three-and-out to open the game, but then converted five straight third-down chances more than two possessions but still came out with only three points. One drive ended with Trubisky’s interception on a poorly thrown first down from the Patriots’ half of the field:
On the next drive, Pittsburgh moved the ball well and got to the New England 13 when the third-down streak ended when Trubisky was sacked for a 5-yard loss. The Steelers set up a field goal.
Trubisky is clearly not the long-term QB solution. It may not be worth the short-term solution as Pittsburgh selected Pickett 20th overall in this year’s draft, a former University of Pittsburgh star who played the same position with the Steelers in college and was very familiar with his new team.
“It is what it is,” Trubisky said of the chant after the game. “You just stuck it out.”
Despite being in his sixth NFL season and spending last year as a backup with Buffalo, Trubisky doesn’t seem to have developed much since entering the league. He has his moments, but they are outweighed by poor decision-making, inconsistent throwing, a tendency to telegraph passes, and taking bad shots.
In two games this season, Trubisky’s offense and the Steelers have scored only two touchdowns, and advanced to the red zone only four times. Last week, the defense forced five turnovers in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals — and the offense yet needing overtime, not to mention an extra point he was lucky to block as regulation expired, only to score 23 points.
“We didn’t move the ball well enough on offense,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after Sunday’s win. “A flash is not enough [plays]’, especially in the moments of weakness.”
Trubisky’s completion against New England was 23 yards at the end of the first half. Tomlin credited the Patriots’ defense, specifically pointing to the presence of veteran safety Devin McCourty, as part of the reason the Steelers lacked deep attempts. But Trubisky averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt on the day, with just 168 yards on 21 completions.
It wasn’t all Trubisky, of course. Former Patriot Gunner Olszewski fumbled a third-quarter punt and New England recovered at the Pittsburgh 10, scoring three plays later for a 17-6 lead. The Steelers’ defensive front, playing without the injured TJ Watt, was unable to take advantage of New England’s inferior offensive line, failing to sack Mac Jones and being credited with just three quarterback hits.
The next few days in Pittsburgh will be filled with calls for Pickett to take over, but the Steelers play for a short week with a matchup against division rival Cleveland on Thursday night. So it seems only fitting to play the rookie against a strong defense with only a few days of preparation.
But Week 4? That’s another story. The Steelers will host the Jets on Oct. 2, and by then the calls for Pickett could fall on deaf ears.
Tomlin has never been one to succumb to the whims of outside pressures, but as soon as Pittsburgh drafted Pickett, Trubisky was destined to be the bridge quarterback. Trubisky’s own play is making it clear that it should be a short bridge.
The Steelers have skilled players, from Najee Harris to Diota Johnson to Chase Claypool. Even with Watt’s medicine, they have a solid defense. What they need to be competitive in a very strong AFC is a better quarterback.
One of them might be on the bench. They won’t know until they do what the fans seem to want and move on from Trubisky.