As the Pittsburgh Steelers attempt to cleanse their palate after a disheartening 24-10 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, the absence of quarterback Kenny Pickett looms large. Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed on Monday that Pickett underwent surgery on his ankle to expedite recovery from a high ankle sprain, ruling him out for the upcoming clash with the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium on Thursday night.
"He was managing that ankle prior to yesterday," Tomlin remarked. "I think he was listed on the injury report every day last week. It got aggravated. And we just did what was necessary in terms of addressing it."
The Steelers, currently holding the top wildcard spot in the AFC with a 7-5 record, face a crucial juncture with Pickett sidelined. The rookie quarterback was injured in the first half against the Cardinals, leaving the field with a lower leg injury after a valiant goal-line dive.
In Pickett's absence, veteran Mitch Trubisky steps into the limelight. Tomlin expressed confidence in Trubisky, who led the team to its lone touchdown against the Cardinals and boasts a 2-3 record in five career starts for the Steelers. Despite starting the season as a backup, Trubisky's experience and communication skills make him an attractive option for the struggling offense.
"Pickett has completed 62 percent of his passes this season for 2,070 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also rushed for one touchdown."
While Trubisky takes the helm, Mason Rudolph is elevated to the backup role. Tomlin emphasizes Rudolph's familiarity with the team and his role as a reliable option in the absence of Pickett.
The injury to Pickett, though not deemed season-ending, puts the Steelers in a precarious position. The team's offensive struggles are apparent, with only ten touchdowns in the last eight games, despite Pickett's impressive streak of 218 consecutive passes without an interception.
In addition to Pickett's injury, the Steelers are grappling with other vital losses. Inside linebacker, Elandon Roberts and left guard Isaac Seumalo left the Cardinals game in the second quarter, and Tomlin lists them as questionable for the upcoming clash with the Patriots.
Roberts, in particular, had assumed a crucial role in the defense, serving as the relay for defensive play calls. Tomlin acknowledges the strain on the team, having lost inside linebackers Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander in recent weeks.
"Essentially, we lost our defensive quarterback in Elandon Roberts when he went down with injury."
Tomlin hints at potential roles for recently signed veterans Blake Martinez and Myles Jack to address the defensive gaps. Both players bring valuable NFL experience, with Martinez boasting a seven-year career highlighted by four consecutive seasons with at least 140 tackles and Jack having spent the 2022 season with the Steelers.
"We value NFL experience, even if that NFL experience was not in a training camp or has limited work in that area."
As the Steelers navigate these challenges, Thursday's game against the Patriots becomes a litmus test for the team's resilience. The quarterback carousel and defensive adjustments will be scrutinized as the Steelers aim to maintain their playoff position in a competitive AFC landscape. The next few weeks will undoubtedly shape the narrative for the Steelers, determining whether they emerge as contenders or succumb to the mounting challenges.
This is Dez Barnes of Pretty Girls Love Sports, a journalist on the MTMV Sports platform. She is a retired US Army veteran, professional cheerleader, pet mom, and avid sports lover. Feel free to follow her writings as she dives into the latest sports news! You can find her on all social media channels @PGLOVESPORTS.