Kenny Pickett, T.J. Watt, running backs and eight random NFL thoughts as training camp rolls on
Let's talk some football.
Honestly, I find it incredibly difficult to talk football during the offseason — minus the draft — because I just can’t get into it during the spring and summer months, and especially when the NHL and NBA playoffs and baseball season are all in full swing. I just can not get into it when other sports are actually happening.
But now that NFL training camps are underway, I am back in the mood for football.
But first, a housekeeping note.
This past week marked the one-year anniversary of me starting this SubStack and freelancing everywhere I can. That means I have made it one year supporting myself on a freelance basis after NBC did away with all of its sports sites. And that, to me, is an accomplishment I am happy with. My biggest fear while working for NBC and the source of daily crippling anxiety is what I would do in the event that job went away, and for one year…. I have done it. So hurray for that.
Thank you again everybody for coming along for the ride, whether you were just here for the first year or if you came back for more. Or if you are new.
Also, for those of you that ARE back, if you subscribed on the yearly rate when I started this your subscriptions have been up for renewal. Some of you initially signed up and paid more than the $30-35 annual/founding member rate, and while I deeply appreciated that last year, I absolutely did not and do not expect that again this year. Those renewed subscriptions automatically renewed for the extra amount. I have been going through and refunding everybody down to the $30 annual rate so you’re not paying more than that. Those refunds should show up over the next few days (and if they do not, please reach out and let me know and I will take care of that). I didn’t have a way to reach out to everybody individually, so this seemed liked the best way to address that.
Now let’s talk about some Steelers and general NFL football.
1. Everything for the Steelers will depend on Kenny Pickett’s development
I know this is a simplistic and obvious take, but it really is the No. 1 factor at play for the Steelers.
If he is good and takes a huge leap in his development, the Steelers are going to have a chance to be great.
If he does not do that, then they are going to remain mired in mediocrity.
And I just don’t know what to expect.
There is a part of me that wants to imagine he can follow a development path similar to Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, where an ordinary rookie season was followed by a much-improved second season that set the stage for an MVP caliber third season. I know that is setting a high bar, but two years ago nobody — and I mean nobody — was anticipating Hurts being *this* good. I don’t think Pickett has Hurts’ mobility or arm-strength (which are two pretty important things, I admit) so it probably limits his upside, but I am speaking generally here in terms of development. Bottom line is if Pickett keeps getting better, the Steelers will keep getting better.
For as ordinary as Pickett’s rookie season looked, he did get better as the year progressed and there was a pretty decent swing in both his personal success and the team success from his first half to his second half.
The passer rating went up over 17 points, the yards per attempt went up by nearly a full yard, interceptions and turnovers plummeted, touchdowns increased and wins dramatically increased. Of those two losses over the second stretch of games, one of them was the Baltimore game where he played one series, threw one pass, and then exited with an injury. If he does not get hurt the Steelers probably win that game and make the playoffs.
Now, those second column numbers still are not particularly good in terms of NFL starting quarterbacks. An 84 passer rating would put you somewhere in the high-20s for a ranking. Averaging 6.5 yards per attempt would put you near the bottom of the league.
The point is simply: He got better. Maybe not as rapidly as you would like, but he did get better. Over the first five games, he was probably the worst starting quarterback in football. Over the next eight games, he was probably around the 24 or 25 mark.
The Steelers need that progression to carry over and continue into this season. If he can get into the 14-18 range in year two, which I do not think is asking a lot, then I like the Steelers chances to be pretty good and make the playoffs.
But if he stays in the 24-25 range, it’s probably going to be another 9-8 season where you spend Week 17 rooting for six other teams to lose.
2. T.J. Watt needs to be kept healthy
No matter what Pickett does or does not do this season the offense still seems to have a very limited ceiling just simply based on the way they run things and their entire philosophy.
They are still a defense-first team.
While that defense does have a lot of talented players, everything on its revolves around T.J. Watt. He makes the players around him better, he makes the defense better, and he makes the team better.
When he is on the field. Watt has missed a handful of games in recent years, and when he is not on the field there is a dramatic difference in how the team performs.
It is actually kind of staggering when you look at the numbers.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Adam's Sports Stuff to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.