When Week 12 of the 2023 NFL season drew to a close, things were looking pretty good in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a 7-4 record, and were two games behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. Beyond that, the Steelers were sitting fifth in the conference standings, enjoyed a tiebreaker over the Cleveland Browns, and had upcoming games against the 2-10 Arizona Cardinals, and the 2-9 New England Patriots, coming up.
The wheels have come off.
The Steelers lost both of those games, the second one a Thursday Night Football loss at home in primetime to the dreadful Patriots, and followed that with a loss this past weekend in a critical game to the Indianapolis Colts. Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett has missed time due to injury, his replacement Mitchell Trubisky was ineffective and benched, and third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph is going to start this weekend in a must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But wait, there’s more!
Second-year wide receiver George Pickens has come under criticism in recent days due to his effort — or lack thereof — against the Colts. On one play in particular, this goal line run from Jaylen Warren, Pickens fails to make a block, and his defender breaks on Warren and makes the tackle:
Pickens is split to the left side of the formation, and after initially blocking the defender he stops and becomes a spectator, and the cornerback peels off to help stop Warren short of the goal line.
However, this was not the only play where Pickens’ effort was called into question. According to reporting from Pro Football Talk, interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner, in addressing the issue with the team, also highlighted a play where Pickens was targeted on a Trubisky pass, which was intercepted by safety Julian Blackmon. Instead of trying to make a tackle, you can see Pickens basically run away from the flow of the play:
After the goal line play went viral earlier in the week, Pickens was asked about the play. His response might not have gone over well in certain corners.
“I didn’t want to get injured,” said Pickens, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “When you stay in and block somebody, you can get run on very easily.”
The second-year wide receiver pointed to a recent injury suffered by Houston Texans rookie WR Tank Dell, whose season was cut short when he was injured blocking on a goal-line play.
Now Warren has weighed in.
“I see where he’s coming from,” Warren said, via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It is what it is. At the end of the day, he was doing what he thought was best for him.
“Some people play the game differently,” Warren continued. “If I was in that position I would have blocked for him. But we play differently, so . . . .”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the matter on Wednesday with the media. “When you’re winning and doing your jobs, a lot of the attention is on things such as that,” Tomlin said. “When you’re not doing your job and losing, you better keep your damn mouth shut and understand that that tracks a certain type of attention, as well. And usually that’s vulture-like attention.”
The head coach also outlined that Pickens will play on Saturday against Cincinnati, and that he — and the organization — is committed to him as a person, and a player.
“He’s got talents, we want to utilize them,” Tomlin added. “He’s very much in growth and development, but it would be the same if we were winning games or if he said appropriate things to you guys yesterday. You guys might have gone away, but that wouldn’t have made me any more comfortable about this process that he’s going through. It is ongoing and continual and it will continue to require our attention.”
Still, this is not the storyline the Steelers wanted heading into the holiday stretch. They were supposed to be inching towards a playoff spot, thanks to games like they had against the Cardinals and the Patriots. Instead they are down to their third-string quarterback, and Tomlin is forced to address issues like this one with Pickens.
To say Saturday against the Bengals is a must-win game for the Steelers is an understatement.
Source : SBNation