Despite the relatively underwhelming start to the season for the Steelers passing offense in 2023, they now are the proud owners of the two longest passing plays in the NFL. George Pickens had the 71-yard touchdown in Week Two, only topped by the 72-yard touchdown to Calvin Austin in Week Three.
Although his record was broken, Pickens was no passenger in the Austin touchdown. Coach Mike Tomlin quickly pointed this out when asked about the play on The Mike Tomlin Show today.
“I’ll tell you another significant component of the play, is the two people that George Pickens occupied,” Tomlin noted. “George had a big game the other week against Cleveland. We anticipated them putting two people on George so the free safety was not in the middle of the field. He was leaning over on George. And that’s as significant as anything that allowed the play to happen. The attention that we anticipated George getting, obviously because Diontae [Johnson] wasn’t playing in the type of game that George was coming off of. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that.”
If you were told preseason that George Pickens would have just 13 receptions through the first three games, you’d probably think he had a pretty rough start to the season. But what he’s lacked in reception numbers he’s made up for in impact. Among players who have at least ten receptions, he leads the league in yards per catch at over 18, and he has somehow already surpassed his YAC total from last season with 116. And he’s been doing all of this without his running mate in Diontae Johnson, who should only serve to open things up for him.
For the time being, he remains the Steelers’ premier outside threat. Defenses know it, and the Steelers know it too. That’s why Kenny Pickett was so impressive on that play too. As former QB Dan Orlovsky pointed out, Pickett expertly used his body language and eyes to look off the safety to Pickens’ side of the field, before dropping one in the bucket to Austin. Gotta love the wherewithal of the Pickett to pull that off.
Because Pickens has taken such a leap, he’s going to continue to demand attention, if not double teams. This has, and hopefully will continue to, helped guys like Austin get involved in the offense. And if Diontae Johnson can come back in good form, defenses are going to have some tough decisions to make on where to focus their energy.