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5 Questions with Behind the Steel Curtain: Is Rookie QB Kenny Pickett a Bust?

Answering questions about the Steelers @ Colts with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain: Kenny Pickett, defensive struggles and a losing season.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In week 12 our Indianapolis Colts will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. Knowing the party was coming to town I sat down with Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain to talk about the game. You can find Jeff on Twitter here. We swapped questions and answers about both the Colts and Steelers and what follows is what I learned about this weeks enemy. Keep an eye on Behind the Steel Curtain for Jeff’s article with the other side of the conversation.

CS: The Steelers took quarterback Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. For people who haven’t seen Pickett play but have seen his basic stat line, it seems like things haven’t gone that well for the rookie. Is that fair? Has Pickett flashed or looked like a guy who might develop into the kind of starter Steelers fans have come to expect at the position? Either way as a Colts fan I’ll just say at least the Steelers took a swing at the position.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

JH: Pickett’s stat line might look bad, and his play has been below the line at times, but he is improving every week. Last week, while helping the offense put up 20 first half points vs. a very stout Bengals defense, was the best he’s looked to date. As Mike Tomlin said this past Tuesday during his press conference, the progress is there. Is it as fast as everyone, including Pickett himself, would want? No, but he is progressing.

The Steelers took him in the first round, and barring some drastic change of circumstance, he will be their quarterback for the next 2-3 years before they have to make a decision. When you look at some of the other quarterbacks who’ve been taken in previous drafts and didn’t pan out, I’m pleased with Pickett’s progress and the potential he has shown. He is far from a finished product, but if the Steelers found their next “guy” a year after their previous “guy” retired...that’s a pretty good succession plan.

CS: Looking at the numbers, it seems that the Steelers defense has been very good against the run while being very bad against the pass. Do those numbers match what is happening on the field or is there another explanation? And if you were going to design a game plan to beat this Steelers defense what would your plan be.

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

JH: The Steelers defense has been better vs. the run, but a lot of times it is because teams are able to throw their way to success. Why try to run the ball when you can drive the ball down the field with ease? The perfect explanation of the Steelers’ defense was last week vs. Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense. Their running backs didn’t sniff 100 yards, nor did they as a team, but those same running backs catch all 7 passes thrown their way and have 3 touchdown receptions. Burrow throws for 4 touchdowns total. In this case, does it really matter who they move the ball as long as they move the ball?

If you are going to beat the Steelers defense you have to keep them off balance. Early down success creates manageable down and distances and doesn’t allow T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Cam Heyward pin their ears back to get after the quarterback. Run the ball early, and have success on third downs and you’ll move the ball. From there, it’s capitalizing on the defense when reaching the red-zone. It’s a pretty simple formula.

CS: There’s a lot of season left but as of right now the Steelers are in position to hold the 9th pick in the 2023 NFL draft. The Steelers have only had two top 10 picks since 2000, and only seven (7) since 1970(!). I have to imagine for most fans under the age of 90, this season has been really difficult. How are Steelers fans holding up and what changes do most of the fans want to see made going forward?

NFL: NOV 13 Saints at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

JH: Let’s just say they haven’t been holding up well. The Steelers’ fan base is spoiled, and they want to be vying for a championship every year. When the team struggles, they want heads to roll. With that being said, the person they blame the most is Mike Tomlin. Tomlin has had a ridiculous amount of talent come through the organization under his leadership, and he hasn’t gotten the job done since 2009. He’s had a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and many believe he squandered away a lot of the talent.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the Steelers future, because there is. The draft picks coming up, combined with the 2nd Round pick they received from the Bears for Chase Claypool, has fans realizing there are huge holes to fill on the team’s roster. These picks have fans being hopeful, but as for this season it’s been as dreadful as 3-7 can be.

CS: When the 2022 Steelers offense has been at its best what has it looked like? Is Pickett slinging it? Is Najee Harris running wild? What are the strengths on that side of the ball and what do they do best?

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

JH: To be honest, when the Steelers offense has been at its best they’ve been balanced. Running the ball well with Najee Harris to create those manageable situations for Pickett and company to move the chains. What has been extremely promising coming out of the bye week in Week 9 has been the offense’s ability to have a big play here or there. Up until the bye, the longest Steelers scoring play was 8 yards. Since then they’ve had several big plays go for scores, and it shows glimmers of hope for the offense.

If there is a defense which is trying to disrupt the Steelers’ offense, they have to stop the run and force the game into Pickett’s hands. When the offensive line has been suspect at times, they can harass the rookie which will give him happy feet in the pocket.

CS: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts as 2.5 favorites at home in primetime. Is that fair? How does this game go and what is your final score prediction?

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

JH: I think this spread is fair for a lot of reasons. In fact, Colts fans should probably be curious as to why they aren’t getting the standard 3-point home spread in this contest. The Steelers are 3-7, and coming off a game when they surrendered 37 points. Nonetheless, as I always tell our readers, “Vegas knows something.” I think this will be a back-and-forth game between two middle-of-the-road teams, and it might just come down to who can create big plays when they present themselves. I like the Steelers in this game though, with the final score of: Steelers 23, Colts 21

As of this writing, DraftKings Sportsbook has the Colts as 2.5 point favorites at home on Monday night. If you’re betting on this game, you can find updated lines at DraftKings Sportsbook.

I would like to thank Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m not as optimistic as he is that either team will be able to score more than 20 points and I am pretty sure this one is going to be a rough watch. With that being said, I hope both teams have a good time out there.

Go Colts.