Pickett ready to go after 'productive' bye week

Much as the coaching staff evaluated what it was doing and how it was doing it in the first half of the season during the Steelers' bye week, rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett did the same with his game during the team's weekend off from football.

Pickett, who is 1-3 in his starts this season, has some things he definitely wants to get better at during the final nine games for the Steelers, who are off to just a 2-6 start.

Talking about those things and seeing them to fruition on the field will be the focus when the Steelers return to play Sunday at Acrisure Stadium against he New Orleans Saints (3-6).

Pickett said he and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan found some things in watching tape of the past month in which he has been playing at which he can certainly get better.

"I definitely found things with Coach Sully that I want to improve on, just mastering the offense as a whole, using the entire offense, ways for us to get down the field more and be more explosive, which I can definitely help with. So, it was definitely a productive off week," Pickett said Wednesday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex.

There are positives. Pickett is completing 67.9 percent of his passes, while the offense is averaging 319.3 yards per game in his four starts after posting 278.8 per game in the first four games this season.

One big thing on which Pickett obviously would like to improve upon is cutting down on his turnovers.

He's thrown eight interceptions on his 165 pass attempts. That number places him in a tie for second in the NFL behind Indianapolis Matt Ryan, who threw nine interceptions in 297 pass attempts before being benched a few weeks ago.

"I've got to protect the ball more, absolutely," Pickett said. "I'm not throwing picks where I'm not seeing the coverage. I see what's going on, whether it's a tipped ball or there's a few they got me on. I'm processing it. I'm going to the sideline and knowing why I went there. There's things I can work on, but the bottom line is that I've got to protect the football. That's something that in the back half of this season, that needs to be a focus for me."

That's the negative. On the other hand, one of the players with which Pickett is tied with in interceptions is Buffalo's Josh Allen. The difference is that Allen also has thrown 19 touchdown passes. Pickett has just two thus far -- to go along with a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Getting the Steelers into the end zone more regularly is obviously another big focus, as the Steelers have averaged just 11.5 points per game in Pickett's four starts. That has dropped their scoring average to 15 points per game, which is 31st in the league.

And that was before the team traded second-leading receiver Chase Claypool at the deadline last week to the Bears for a second-round draft pick in 2023.

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The Steelers plan on using veteran Steven Sims in the slot more often, but Pickett will obviously have to lean more on wide receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth more, as well.

"We just have to adjust that with how we do different things," Pickett said. "I think the ball gets spread around more. There are guys who will step up as a receiver room to fill that void. I'm excited to see guys get opportunities and see what they do."

The Steelers and Pickett realize they can't do anything about how they've started this season. But they do have control over how they finish.

"I view every week as a fresh start because your resume means very little, what you've done to this point means very little, the most significant opportunity is the one that awaits us all," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "Whether you're 2-6 or 6-2, coming off of a bye week or coming off of a short week, the windshield component is the big picture for us as opposed to the rearview mirror."

That's been Tomlin's message to his team and particularly to his rookie quarterback.

Pickett seems to have taken that to heart, which is why he spent the bye trying to correct the issues of the past and put his best foot forward in the second half.

Will it work?

"We'll find out on Sunday, right?," Pickett said. "We can go over all the things on paper and in the meetings, but we've got to go out there and produce on Sunday. We'll see."