The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a crippling blow on Sunday when Kenny Pickett went to the ground with an apparent lower-leg injury. He was initially ruled questionable in the second quarter before being downgraded to out. Fans later saw him on the sideline in a walking boot.
After the game, it was revealed that Pickett will require ankle surgery. The procedure is expected to keep him out at least 2-4 weeks, but the team will not assign Pickett to the injured reserve, according to NFL insider Ian Rapoport. There is hope Pickett can return before the regular season ends.
This is an extremely positive bit of news for Pittsburgh, even if the circumstances at large are not ideal. Pickett has been mostly ineffective in his sophomore campaign, but the Steelers showed signs of life offensively following Matt Canada's firing and Pickett is still the Steelers' best present option at QB. His health will be paramount when projecting Pittsburgh's postseason outlook.
Kenny Pickett could return to Steelers' lineup by end of regular season
The Steelers were stunned on their home field by the Arizona Cardinals Sunday afternoon, dropping to 7-5 on the season. With Mitch Trubisky slated to take over QB duties for the next few weeks, the Steelers' postseason odds could get dicey.
Currently, owners of the No. 5 seed and the top wild card slot, Pittsburgh is tied in the standings with the Colts, Browns, and Texans. One game behind at 6-6 are the Broncos and Bills.
In short, the margin for error is infinitesimal. The Steelers have a great defense and a coach in Mike Tomlin who historically fares extremely well in these circumstances. But, Tomlin doesn't have Ben Roethlisberger to buoy his chances anymore. Now he doesn't even have Kenny Pickett. Sunday made it clear the offense still has a lot of room for improvement post-Canada. Mitchell Trubisky completed 11-of-17 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown after Pickett went down, but he also committed a fumble.
Pickett's primary strength is his aversion to turnovers. He only has four interceptions and two fumbles all season. Trubisky has two interceptions and a fumble in three appearances, without registering a single start. He made five starts in seven games played last season, posting four touchdowns and five INTs. Trubisky may move the ball more confidently than Pickett, but he's also going to make more back-breaking mistakes. That's probably not the recipe Pittsburgh wants in such a critical stretch of the season.
The five games remaining on Pittsburgh's schedule vary in difficulty. Next week's Thursday night matchup with Bailey Zappe and the Patriots has all-time stinker potential. Then, it's a critical wild card bout with Indianapolis, followed by a three-game gauntlet of Cincinnati, Seattle, and Baltimore to finish the campaign.
It's difficult to imagine the Steelers holding up to the stress test without Pickett. Even a below-average QB can have profound implications on his team's success when the alternate is a clear downgrade. At the very least, Trubisky doesn't have the same established rapport with his receivers that Pickett does. The Steelers will need some luck and a couple of heroic efforts from the supporting cast to maintain their spot in the standings.