“What is this if not betrayal? She sent you after me knowing you’re not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad.” – Raoul Silva
Anytime you can work a Javier Bardem “Skyfall” quote into an article, you might as well make it the thesis of your piece. This is how I think Mike Tomlin feels about running Kenny Pickett out as his Week 1 starter against the Bengals. The 24-year-old rookie, who played his college football in the same stadium that he’s going to play pro football in, probably isn’t ready for the NFL because no amount of OTAs can ever prepare him for the NFL.
Referring to Pickett as “Chris Weinke Lite” or “Brandon Weeden Jr.” would be disingenuous, not only because he’s younger than those fellow old-ass rookie quarterbacks but also because he wasn’t as good in college. During Weinke’s senior season at Florida State more than 20 years ago, when teams were still running the option, he threw for 4,167 yards, only 152 fewer than Pickett’s career high (4,319) at Pitt. Weeden, Oklahoma State’s quarterback from 2008 to 2011, tallied 4,727 yards in his last year as a Poke.
Granted neither had the 42-7 TD-INT ratio that Pickett boasted in his best showing. What I’m trying to articulate is the former Pitt Panther’s NFL destiny is probably holding a clipboard and spot duty behind an actual starter. That’s also Mitch Trubisky’s fate — Tomlin just doesn’t know it yet.
I’m not going to question the Steeler head coach’s methods because they get his team to .500 or better every season — and into the playoffs in most of them. The offense is consistently loaded with weapons and a serviceable to good line, and the front office finds pass rushers with the same ease it finds receivers, so that unit is talented in addition to being well-coached.
Organizational infrastructure, combined with great coaching, generally leads to success. It’s why the Ravens weren’t a complete skid mark even when Joe Flacco was routinely throwing flaming bags of dog shit. My expectations for Pittsburgh are the same as last year when they Weekend at Bernie-d Big Ben’s corpse out there for 16 games. They’ll wring three to four Ws from divisional slugfests, out-coach the lesser non-AFC North opponents, get exposed by a good team or five, and win enough 50-50 contests to snag a playoff berth from the gagging Chargers.
So if who’s playing quarterback is negligible — at least as it pertains to the team treading water — why not just make Pickett the guy? It’s easy to deflect criticism when Roethlisberger had a resume that Tomlin could point to and say, “Hey, No. 7 is our starter until further notice.”
What has Trubisky ever done to earn the benefit of the doubt? Defense is the only reason the Bears are ever good, so don’t try to sell fans on that one year Khalil Mack looked like Lawrence Taylor and Chicago finished 12-4. Yes, the defense surrendered a late touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Wild Card round after Trubisky put Chicago ahead with one of his own, but you’re not going to win many playoff games putting up only 15 points.
If Tomlin shoves Pickett out there knowing he’s not ready, knowing he will likely die, it’ll weigh on his conscience considerably more than M’s every time she dispatches 007 out into the field to take down an international terrorist with a handgun and a radio. Tomlin has never had to do that though. Roethlisberger was the only QB1 he’s ever known, his James Bond (misogynistic similarities duly noted), and he’s always come back alive.
You don’t see all the nameless agents the head of MI-6 sends to their death to keep the country from crumbling, but no one is going to base a franchise off a failure. Few double-Os return from the line of duty (at least that’s what the movies say), and the only way to know if they’re capable of surviving is to send them on a mission with real consequences. Roethlisberger passed all 13 of his assignments during his rookie season, and if Pickett is going to be the next great Steelers QB, it’ll be evident within a few games. And if he’s not ready to start now, at age 24, when will he be?
Or Tomlin could send Trubisky after Blofeld again, and cringe at the mauled body when it’s repeatedly returned in a casket draped in Terrible Towels.