Ah, Christmas; lights, gifts and all-around holiday cheer. Best of all, Las Vegas Raiders football.
The Raiders will be in Pittsburgh today to play Kenny Pickett and the Steelers on the night of Christmas Eve. Pickett is gearing up for the tenth start of his young career, while Las Vegas is trying to keep their momentum going with hopes of making the 2022 NFL postseason. If the Silver and Black want to extend their hot streak to five wins in six weeks, they’ll have to be ready for the rookie quarterback on the other side.
Here’s what both Las Vegas and Raider Nation should know about the 24-year-old Steelers’ signal caller.
Analyzing Kenny Pickett’s game ahead of Week 16 vs. Raiders
Thus far, the story of Kenny Pickett’s career has been the tale of two halves. Throughout the first five games of his career, Pickett tossed two touchdowns and eight interceptions. The first-round draft pick had a quarterback rating of 66.8 between Weeks 1-8, which ranked 11th-lowest among all 56 quarterbacks to take at least one snap in this timeframe.
Since Week 9, the Pittsburgh alum has looked like a different quarterback. Pickett has tallied two passing touchdowns with zero interceptions, bumping his passer rating up to 85.3 in the process.
It isn’t just his QB rating that’s improving, either; Pickett is enjoying a complete makeover in most analytical departments. The rookie recorded a turnover-worthy play percentage of 3.9% during Weeks 1-8 and dropped that number to just 1.2% between Week 9 and the present day. Pickett’s “big time throw” percentage (throws with “excellent” timing and ball placement) has seen a notable leap as well, jumping from 1.7% – the fourth lowest among all QBs between Weeks 1-8 who were credited with at least one big time throw – to 5% from Week 8 onward; an increase of about 300%.
The Raiders’ defense will be tasked with trying to slow down a young QB who’s trending upward.
Naturally, the 20th-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft is enjoying a much better passing grade via Pro Football Focus as of late. Through his first five contests, Pickett earned a passing grade of 59.4, ranking 37-of-58 quarterbacks to record at least one snap. That grade has jumped to 70.3 through his last five outings, catapulting Pickett into the Top 25.
Pickett’s last outing was his best
In Week 13, the last time Pickett took the field for longer than two drives in a contest, the rookie was at his best. Pittsburgh’s QB1 ended the game with a career-high passer rating of 90.9, along with a yards per attempt mark of 7.04, the highest of his career as the team’s starting quarterback. The 6’3″ signal caller also recorded a passing touchdown without committing any turnovers.
Like Pickett, the Raiders’ defense was also at their best during their last outing. Against New England, the Silver and Black held Mac Jones to zero touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 52.1, forcing the Patriots’ 2021 first-round pick to record career-lows in passing yards (112) and completion percentage (41.94%). Jones’ yards per attempt was 3.61, setting yet another career-low in Sunday’s contest between the two clubs.
If Patrick Graham can put together a game-plan similar to the one used against Mac Jones and New England, Las Vegas will have no trouble at all keeping Pickett and the Steelers at bay. Rock Ya-Sin will cheer from the sidelines for the third week in a row, and Amik Robertson will get another opportunity to showcase his skillset in Ya-Sin’s place. Robertson allowed a completion percentage of just 14.3% against the Patriots, forcing three incompletions.
This is a must-win contest for both sides. The Raiders’ playoff hopes aren’t dead yet, but a loss on Christmas Eve will put them to rest for the remainder of the season. The temperature is set to be below 16 degrees, and Derek Carr is ready for the challenge.
*Top Photo: Joe Sargent/Getty Images