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Pickett continuing to show signs of progress

It's only been seven starts for Kenny Pickett in the NFL, but the Steelers' rookie quarterback is learning quickly.

How quickly?

In his first 165 passes, Pickett was intercepted eight times. Some of those were circumstantial, but they still went against his ledger.

But since the Steelers' Week 9 bye, Pickett has been on the mark with his passes, running up a streak of 100 consecutive passes without an interception while leading the Steelers to two wins in their past three games.

He's also been more efficient as a passer – and runner – as the game has slowed down for him.

"I'm getting more comfortable with the system," Pickett said Wednesday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex as the Steelers (4-7) began their preparation to play the Falcons (5-7) Sunday in Atlanta.

"That's the No. 1 thing, if you're in a system over a long period of time, you just feel like you're in a lot more control than when you're learning it, studying formations, structure and route combinations that are new to you, once you get to do that a couple of times and you get the rhythm of the game, the rhythm of the system, you can go be yourself and play."

The Steelers have had their two best offensive performances in the past two weeks, scoring 30 points in a loss to the Bengals, then posting 24 points in a win over the Colts last week.

Monday night against the Colts, Pickett also directed his first fourth-quarter comeback along with his first road victory, two big moments not just for the young quarterback, but for a young offense, as well.

"It shows growth. We had the two three-and-outs, things weren't going our way," Pickett said of back-to-back possessions in the third quarter when the Colts turned a 16-3 deficit into a 17-16 lead.

"We weren't executing at a high level. At a big moment in that game, we came together and put together one of the best drives we've had of the season. We converted on third downs. We were moving the ball really well. And then finishing in the red zone and having a two-point conversion. There were a lot of positives there."

In Pickett's first four starts, he posted a 71.8 passer rating, completing 67.1 percent of his passes for 842 yards with two touchdown passes and five interceptions.

In his past three starts since the team's bye week, Pickett is completing a lower percentage of his passes – 63 percent – but he's thrown for 638 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a passer rating of 84.5.

"He's definitely been more aware, just playing safe, trying not to do too much out there," wide receiver Diontae Johnson said of Pickett's play since the bye. "He's just being himself out there and just letting the offense flow. When he's out there playing like that, we all play well. He's not forcing things. He's playing comfortable, as well. Just by him doing that, we're going to continue to make plays for him down the field."

He's also run the ball more effectively. Since the bye, Pickett has rushed 16 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. In his four starts prior to the bye, it was 13 carries for 83 yards.

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

Knowing when to run, or when to move in the pocket and use his legs to extend a play are part of the growth process.

"That adds to it. There's always a time and place for it. I like to scramble to extend and free guys up down the field," Pickett said. "But if they're covered down or it's a third-down situation, a big-time moment and I want to move the chains, I'm going to use my legs to do so. It's all about the feel of the game and what I see."

That was evident Monday on his two-point conversion pass to rookie wide receiver George Pickens. Pickett, who rushed for 32 yards on six attempts in the game, rolled to his right and might have been able to score the conversion on his own. But Pickens uncovered at the last second, allowing Pickett to fire a strike to him in the back corner of the end zone.

He also completed passes to 10 different players in the game, another big step in his progression.

"It's command of the offense and using every guy at my disposal throughout progressions and every guy knowing they can get the football on any given play," Pickett said of how he feels he's grown. "I think that's huge. We're continuing to build that. I'm going to continue to grow in the system. Once you get a mastery of it, you use all of your options."

He's not quite up to master's level just yet, but there has been clear and obvious growth.

If Pickett and the Steelers can get a win Sunday, he would even his record as a starter to 4-4 in his rookie season.

It would be another positive sign.

"I think it's just continuing to get progress and improving every week," Pickett said of his goal. "That was the focus last week. That's the focus this week. There were some good things. But also there are things I missed. I'll continue to draw on the good and learn from the bad. That's kind of the motto I've had through this whole process. It's something I'll continue to do."