Twice in the closing moments of last Sunday's 16-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Kenny Pickett directed the Steelers on lengthy drives only to be turned away by interceptions.
The drives, both of which produced 62 yards, showed the Steelers are capable of moving the ball in weighty situations.
The results, however, didn't work out in their favor.
And, as the old adage goes, close doesn't count.
"There was definitely positives, but the almost doesn't get you anything," Pickett said Wednesday at the UMPC-Rooney Sports Complex. "You want to go finish the game. I felt like we were efficient in the two-minute until the turnover play. It's something I'll learn from, we'll learn from as a group."
The Steelers (2-5) had better learn quickly. They face another stiff test Sunday when they travel to Philadelphia to face the NFL's last unbeaten team, the 6-0 Eagles.
Philadelphia has proven a tough nut to crack for all of their opponents this season. The Eagles and Bills are the only two teams in the NFL this season in the top five both offensively and defensively this season in total yards.
And moving the ball against their defense will be no small task. Philadelphia also leads the NFL with 14 takeaways this season.
Considering Pickett has now thrown seven interceptions in his four games this season, it's a concern.
But he and the team also don't want him to not be aggressive.
"You look at some of the turnover plays, it's a ball getting tipped, or Chase (Claypool) getting his feet tangled up. Some things just don't go your way. That's life. That's football," Pickett said. "There's times we have to take chances and give our guys a chance down the field. There's a fine line between it. We're trying to balance that out."
Pickett is one of just two rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 1990 to have three interceptions in two of his first four career games. The other? Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. And Manning threw three interceptions in three of his first four games.
But a number of his interceptions haven't come on bad throws. They've been situations where he and his receivers haven't necessarily been on the same page, such as his final one against the Dolphins, where he scrambled to his left with under 20 seconds remaining and lofted a ball toward Diontae Johnson in the front corner of the end zone. Johnson read the play differently and went to the inside, leaving cornerback Justin Bethel as the only player capable of making the catch.
"He's still learning. We've just got to get on the same page. It's nothing he did wrong," Johnson said. "He's just trying to make a play. He was trying to throw the ball out of bounds and expected me to be in a certain spot. The guy made a play on the ball."
Those are the kind of things that will be sifted through as Pickett navigates his first NFL season.
But figuring things out against this Eagles team – particularly on the outside – won't be easy. According to Pro Football Focus, Eagles cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry have allowed the lowest quarterback passer rating in the NFL this season among players targeted at least 30 times. Slay is allowing a passer rating of 31.8 in his coverage, while Bradberry is at 42.5.
That could mean Pickett looks more to the middle of the field, where and tight end Pat Freiermuth might have better matchups.
Philadelphia slot cornerbacks Avonte Maddox and Josiah Scott have combined to allow 18 completions on 24 pass attempts in their coverage for 197 yards.
- Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast
Meanwhile, the Eagles have given up 29 completions for 269 yards and two touchdowns to opposing tight ends.
Pickett seems to have developed a nice rapport with Freiermuth, as evidenced by his throw to the big tight end on fourth-and-6 earlier in the final drive against the Dolphins. Freiermuth wasn't necessarily open. But the defender had his back to Pickett, so Pickett trusted Freiermuth to come down with the ball.
"If you think about that one, the guy with his back (to the ball) running with Pat and giving him a chance to make a play, putting it out in front and we were able to convert," Pickett said. "It was almost the same thing with Diontae. I wanted to give him a chance to make a play. We weren't on the same page. It's something me and him are working really hard on together to get on the same page. We'll get it right."
That's the give and take involved with a rookie quarterback learning on the job.
Pickett also is learning quickly that stringing together long drives in the NFL is much easier if there are some chunk plays involved.
The Steelers had four drives against the Dolphins that consisted of 10 or more plays. But they amounted to just 10 points.
Adding more splash to the offense would help alleviate that issue – even if it doesn't necessarily come on a deep pass. Sometimes, it's all about ball placement.
"Giving guys balls on the run, where they have an opportunity after the catch, it's not just throwing deep," Pickett said. "In the NFL, we've got to scheme the deep ball. You're not just going to run past these guys. They're playing soft coverage, you can't do it. You get guys the ball on the run and let our athletes be athletes. Get them in space. There are different ways to get splash plays. We're working hard at it."
It's all part of this process.
The Steelers feel they'll get these issues worked out.
"When you put the film up and you see the opportunities that we miss or don't hit for whatever reason, we know they're there," Pickett said. "We do it in practice. We're trying to become more consistent at doing it in the game.
"We can't press. We have to let it happen. If they're not there, we have to check it down. You can't press as a player. Bad things happen."