As the dust settles on the Steelers’ first leg of their quarterback competition — a 32-25 win over the Seattle Seahawks — Pittsburgh can feel encouraged by the performance of all three options.
When Steelers coaches take their fine-toothed combs to the film in the days to come, they’ll notice that Mitchell Trubisky answered the bell admirably as the man atop of the depth chart, and Mason Rudolph provided sturdy play worthy of a longtime backup, but it was the quarterback of the future, Kenny Pickett, who delivered the biggest play and elicited the loudest fan reaction.
“They moved their units,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “They did the informal things associated with the position from a leadership and communication standpoint. They were engaged. It was a good first time out for all three. Obviously, we will comb through it tomorrow and evaluate it in that way.”
Unsurprisingly, Tomlin made no announcements regarding a Week 1 starter or who was leading the way in the QB competition.
Trubisky took the first crack, as expected, and wasted no time making an impression on his third NFL home. Besides staying strong in the pocket, making several throws right at the point of contact with a pursuing Seahawks defender, Trubisky completed 3-of-5 passes for 47 yards on his first drive and delivered the game’s opening salvo — a 13-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Gunner Olszewski.
Trubisky started his second drive by threading the needle to sixth-rounder (and Cameron Heyward’s brother) Connor Heyward for 16 yards. The momentum stalled on the next set of downs, but not before Trubisky showed off his mobility, escaping from a sure sack for a four-yard scamper.
Rudolph took the reins on Pittsburgh’s third offensive possession deep in Seattle territory. He was strip-sacked from the blindside by Seahawks second-rounder Boye Mafe on his first snap, but he recovered his own fumble and rebounded two plays later with a pinpoint 26-yard pass in the corner of the endzone to the Steelers’ own second-round rookie, WR George Pickens.
Rudolph’s subsequent three drives started in less fortuitous territory — beginning at the Steelers’ 20-yard line on average — and led to only three points. Rudolph looked assured in the pocket, which is to be expected after three years in the system.
He finished out the first half with a respectable stat line of 9-of-15 passing for 93 yards and one score, but he also lucked out on a dropped pick thrown right into the chest of defensive back Josh Jones, and did little to close the gap behind Trubisky or protect himself against Pickett on the depth chart.
When Pickett, the lone quarterback taken in this year’s first round, took over in the third quarter, it was clear by the crowd’s reaction that he played his college ball right across the street. Following the standing ovation, Pickett completed an easy play-action rollout to tight end Jace Sternberger to gain both his early footing and a first down.
He would go on to complete all six of his attempted passes on the first drive, including a 3-yard touch pass to rookie RB Jaylen Warren for six and a two-point conversion to Heyward.
The Steelers adapted a grind-it-out style after that, but Pickett still did not register an incompletion until his 11th attempt, a deep shot to wideout Christian Blake with only minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Pickett saved his most impressive drive for last. After a thumping blindside hit separated Seahawks QB Drew Lock from the ball with 70 seconds remaining, the rookie took over at Seattle’s 43-yard line with the game tied, 25-25. Pickett showed awareness of both the clock and the score by prioritizing ball security — twice scrambling for a total of 12 yards — and eventually iced the game with a 24-yard TD pass.
“He moved his group. He played situational football,” Tomlin said of Pickett’s game-winning drive. “He displayed a competitive spirit. A lot of good things to build on from a first-performance standpoint.”
At the end of the day, Trubisky held serve. He did as well as can be expected in just two drives of work. But it’s clear who fans want on the field. The crowd was in rare form for a second half of a preseason game, filling the newly named Acrisure Stadium with chants of “Kenny” for a third-string rookie who debuted like a pro.
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