Pickett continues to grow in role as Steelers QB

There are many nuances to an NFL game, so many, in fact, it makes it hard to track via analytics in the same fashion as baseball, basketball or hockey.

But there are situations in which some players just perform better than others, such as a quarterback late in a game with everything on the line.

Some players handle those situations well. Some don't.

The Steelers believe rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is a player who thrives under the pressure of having the game on the line.

And twice this season, he's led fourth-quarter comebacks to lead the Steelers to victory, including doing so in last Saturday night's 13-10 win over the Raiders that improved their record to 7-8 going into Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I imagine he was born with it," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of Pickett's moxie late in games. "I know that it's not the first time I've seen it. I know it's not the first time that people from Western PA have seen it. We've seen him do it (at Pitt). I think that's why we have such a great deal of comfort in his intangible quality and from a draft-evaluation perspective. We were in close proximity to it. And when you're in close proximity to it, it becomes less intangible. You can almost feel it. It is real. I don't think any of us are surprised by it."

In fact, it might be more surprising to see when a player who has shown that kind of end-of-game moxie doesn't get it done.Pickett expects to win in those situations, as well. But as a rookie doing it for the first time in the NFL, there are steps along the way that must be learned. And, it must be remembered that Pickett isn't the only young player on the Steelers' offense learning to come up big in those kind of situations.

Outside of wide receiver Diontae Johnson, the rest of the team's primary skill position players on offense are in their first or second year in the NFL, as well.

Tomlin called the win over the Raiders a "growing up" moment. That extended beyond the young quarterback.

"I think he means the young guys growing and stepping up and being A players, as he likes to say. It was a big moment," said Pickett, who finished off the 78-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie George Pickens with less than one minute to play.

"You saw a lot of guys stand up. After that, we had to ice the game and we had Connor on the jet sweep, another young guy stepping up in a big moment and closing it out. That's where the positive growth was, finishing the game. Earlier in the season, the Miami game didn't go that way. I think we all used that experience to help us out here at the end."

Pickett was intercepted twice in that 16-10 loss deep in Miami territory in the final 3:06.

But since that game, when he's had an opportunity with the game on the line, he's come through.

Pickett has been especially good in two-minute drill situations. The game speeds up a little, but the defense is running more generic schemes.

"It's a two-minute drill, so it's a completely different game from that standpoint, with time and kind of where you're at in the game and pressing to go down and score a touchdown," Pickett said. "They call things differently. We prepare differently for two minutes. You can't compare that to the rest of the game because of the situation."

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

That skillset could come in handy this week against the Ravens. Pickett suffered a concussion early in the first quarter of the Steelers' game against the Ravens Dec. 11, a 16-14 Baltimore victory.

That game marked the 23rd time in the past 29 games between the two teams that has been decided by one score or less.

Steelers-Ravens meetings are typically close.

One thing he'll have to do is handle zone coverage better. The Ravens only play man defense about 25 percent of the time.

Pickett has completed 71.6 percent of his passes against zone defenses this season, compared to 54.3 percent against man. But his passer rating against zone defenses is 63.3 compared to 80.5 against man.

"We've been seeing a lot of zone lately, the games we're playing because we've had man we've been beating it," said Johnson. "Do we have the right plays dialed up to beat zone coverage. Coach (Mike Tomlin) was harping about that today, just beating zone coverage because that's what we're going to see a lot more of in those weighty moments. Coming up with a game plan and knowing what to do in those weighty moments, we've got to execute and convert downs against zone coverage."

If Pickett shows the same kind of growth he has in two-minute situations, he'll be OK.

"It's all areas of the passing game we can try to improve on. That's one aspect of it – guys knowing when to sit routes down and I have to read it out. There are a lot of things that go into it, but that's definitely one."