Kenny Pickett is officially the most popular man in Pittsburgh.
On Sunday afternoon, as the Steelers lost their home opener to the New England Patriots, there were at least two occasions when CBS broadcast microphones picked up the crowd at Acrisure Stadium chanting “KEN-NY! KEN-NY!” and expressing their desire that Mitchell Trubisky be pulled in favor of the rookie quarterback. And it wasn’t just fans — longtime Steelers beat reporter Ed Bouchette tweeted he’d seen enough from Trubisky as well.
It’s the problem every team has when it struggles offensively and there’s either a well-known or intriguing quarterback on the bench behind the starter. And to be fair, there has been plenty of criticism leveled at offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
That said, the fans weren’t chanting for someone to replace him. Against New England, the Steelers went three-and-out to open the game, but then converted five straight third-down chances over two possessions yet still came away with only three points. One drive ended when Trubisky was intercepted on a badly thrown first-down ball from the Patriots’ half of the field:
On the next drive, Pittsburgh moved the ball pretty well and got to the New England 13 when the third-down streak ended with Trubisky sacked for a 5-yard loss. The Steelers settled for the field goal.
Trubisky is clearly not the long-term QB solution. He might not even be the short-term solution as Pittsburgh selected Pickett 20th overall in this year’s draft, a former University of Pittsburgh star who played in the same stadium as the Steelers in college and was very familiar with his new team.
“It is what it is,” Trubisky said of the chants after the game. “You just block it out.”
Despite being in his sixth NFL season and spending last year as a backup with Buffalo, it seems Trubisky hasn’t developed much since entering the league. He has his moments, but they are outweighed by poor decision-making, inconsistent throwing, a propensity for telegraphing passes, and taking bad sacks.
In two games this season, Trubisky and the Steelers’ offense have scored just 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 still needed overtime, not to mention a fortunate blocked extra point as regulation expired, just to reach 23 points.
“We didn’t move the ball well enough on offense,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after Sunday’s defeat. “Not enough ‘splash [plays]’, especially in the waning moments.”
Trubisky’s longest completion against New England was 23 yards, at the end of the first half. Tomlin credited the Patriots’ defense, specifically pointing out the presence of veteran safety Devin McCourty, as part of the reason the Steelers didn’t have many 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 muffed 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 an injured TJ Watt, wasn’t able to take advantage of a subpar New England offensive line, failing to sack Mac Jones and being credited with just three quarterback hits.
The coming days in Pittsburgh will be filled with calls for Pickett to take over, but the Steelers play on a short week with a matchup against division rival Cleveland on Thursday night. So playing the rookie against a strong defense with just a couple of days of preparation seems less than ideal.
Goal Week 4? That’s a different story. The Steelers host the Jets on Oct. 2, and by then the calls for Pickett may be deafening.
Tomlin has never been one to give in to the whims of outside pressures, but as soon as Pittsburgh drafted Pickett, Trubisky was destined to be a bridge quarterback. Trubisky’s own play is making it clear that it should be a short bridge.
The Steelers have talented skill players, from Najee Harris to Diontae Johnson to Chase Claypool. Even with Watt healing, they have a solid defense. What they need to be competitive in an incredibly strong AFC is a better quarterback.
They might have one on the bench. They won’t know until they do what the fans seem to want and move on from Trubisky.