This has been a very conflicting week for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett.
The former Pitt star grew up in Ocean Township, N.J., located in the nebulous fan zone of central Jersey, about an hour’s drive from the Meadowlands, where the New York Jets and Giants play, and a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia.
So, growing up, Pickett had his geographical choice as to what sports teams he would be rooting for. Those teams happened to be the Philadelphia Phillies and the Eagles—one he’s still rooting for to win the World Series, the other he will be starting against this Sunday at 1 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field.
This season, the Steelers’ first-round pick is 1-3 in games he’s played in, completing 87 of 127 passes (68.5%) for 771 yards and two touchdowns and seven interceptions, including two three-interception games, one last week in the Steelers’ 16-10 loss at Miami and in the Steelers’ 24-20 loss to the Jets on Oct. 2.
“I was a big Kenny Pickett fan,” said Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni when asked about Pickett coming out of Pitt. “I thought he was a really good football player. He did a lot of really good things. He had one of the best seasons since a guy named [Dan] Marino over there, which is darn impressive. I thought he was an accurate passer. I thought he was a quick decision maker. I thought he was a very good, underrated guy with his legs. He had one of the coolest plays that anyone has ever seen in that ACC Championship game when he pretended to slide, the guy stopped and then he went for a touchdown, so much so that they made a rule about it.
“I thought also he’s very intelligent. As far as football intelligence, he was off the charts. I thought he was really good. Then getting into how he’s playing and everything, you’re just going to keep seeing him get better. I just think from everything I know about him; I think he’ll continue to get better because I think he has a lot of tools.”
If the Eagles are going to get to Pickett, now is the time, at his nascent stage in the NFL. Pickett is still getting adjusted to the speed of the NFL, he’s certainly learning NFL defensive schemes as he moves along, and he has not yet reached a comfort zone to display the many tools he does have.
The Eagles do not want to be Pickett’s coming out party.
Veteran cornerbacks Darius Slay, and James Bradberry will certainly try to lure Pickett into mistakes, and safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps will try to make him see ghosts.
One area of Pickett’s game that has certainly arrived is his pocket awareness. He senses when to step up in the pocket and elude tacklers.
When pressed, Pickett has been exceptionally aware. He’s best when blitzed, which resulted in his two touchdowns and when he’s completed 21 of 28.
If the Eagles bring pressure organically, can get out to an early lead, Pickett has shown a penchant for putting pressure on himself in trying to do too much. Against the surprising Jets, the Steelers had a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter when Pickett threw two of his three interceptions, one pick he could be blamed for. Against Miami, he had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, and Pickett clenched up and couldn’t finish.
Pickett has shown signs he could be a capable NFL quarterback. He may be. Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will need to confuse the rookie with different looks and hope Pickett’s maturation process to recognize what the Eagles are in doesn’t suddenly hit hyper drive on Sunday.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.