Kenny Pickett vs. Mitch Trubisky: Mike Tomlin explains where Steelers QB battle stands entering final preseason game

The Steelers entered the preseason with one of the most open quarterback competitions in the NFL. It remains undecided how the last week of the preseason comes.

Free agent Mitch Trubisky, first-round pick Kenny Pickett and longtime Steelers backup Mason Rudolph are all battling for a chance to succeed Ben Roethlisberger. All three blitzed at times during the first two preseason contests in Pittsburgh, and that’s one of the reasons coach Mike Tomlin has yet to decide which player will be the starter.

Tomlin was asked about the state of quarterback competition ahead of the Steelers’ final preseason game against the Lions. The veteran coach explained that the duel with Detroit will be a strong final test in the game for any passer-by.

“A lot of places are going to come down to that work,” Tomlin said of the position battles beginning in Week 3 of preseason, according to CBS Sports. โ€œThis work is weighted differently, and appropriately so. The work at the stadium is important and it becomes even more important the more stadium presence you get.

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Stadium presence for Sunday’s competition will be of particular importance as the Steelers play at Acrisure Stadium, their home stadium. That gives the quarterbacks one last chance to stake their claim on the job at the venue where Pittsburgh will play half of its games in 2022.

So, where does the Steelers’ quarterback fight stand in the final week of preseason? Here’s what you should know about the Trubisky vs. Pickett vs. Rudolph competition entering its final stages.

Mitch Trubisky stats, preseason highlights

Tomlin said before the Steelers’ week one preseason game that Trubisky would be used as a starter if the season started that day. Why?

“Mitch’s silver bullet, if you will, is his fluidity and mobility,” explained Tomlin. “He’s a really good athlete.”

Trubisky showed himself well in two preparatory games. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft completed 9 of 15 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in limited action. He hasn’t turned the ball over yet and has 14 rushing yards on two scrambles; He also showed his agility on his lone touchdown pass to Gunner Olszewski.

The only problem with Trubisky is that he only guided the Steelers to that one result in five preseason drives. He scored his touchdown on a 90-yard drive, but Pittsburgh only has 92 yards on his other four drives combined.

Though the Steelers were scoreless in Trubisky’s three drives against the Jaguars, Tomlin was pleased with the veteran’s efforts.

“I thought Mitch played well,” Tomlin said of Trubisky, per โ€œI thought he created and expanded some things when there wasn’t much. But we need to protect him better and have some semblance of a running game if you want a fair assessment and I’m just being bluntly honest.”

Trubisky has started in Pittsburgh’s first two preseason games, and Tomlin’s assessment seems to indicate he’s staying ahead in the final week of preseason. However, one of the team’s other quarterback options is quickly gaining on him and will align to bring Trubisky down against the Lions.

MORE: Mike Tomlin’s message to Steelers QBs about the competition ahead of week one of preseason

Kenny Pickett-081322-GETTY-FTR

Kenny Pickett stats, preseason highlights

It’s no surprise that Pickett is going all out to unseat Trubisky as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 quarterback. The 20th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft has been looking good during his first preseason action.

Pickett has completed 19 of 22 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns this preseason. He shone on his debut against the Seahawks, completing a game-winning touchdown drive with just three seconds remaining in contention and followed that up with solid, if short, action against the Jaguars.

What has stood out about Pickett so far is his ball placement and accuracy. He regularly read correctly and found his recipients in the crotch. That’s one of the reasons he had so much success leading the team in the two-minute practice against both the Seahawks and Jaguars.

Also, Pickett moved something with his feet. He’s only rushed for 12 yards on four rushing attempts, but he was able to move under pressure and still get the ball down and into the hands of his playmakers.

Pickett’s performance under pressure in those two-minute drills impressed Tomlin and signaled to the Pittsburgh coach that his new quarterback is indeed NFL-eligible.

“It’s probably who he is,” Tomlin said of Pickett’s performance in those high-pressure situations, according to “I know he did it next door (at Pitt’s). He probably did it in high school and he probably did it in the little league.

Pickett’s stellar performances in his first two preseason games have propelled the Steelers from 3rd overall to 2nd in depth. Now he’ll be trying to make the jump to the grid and he’s not that far behind Trubisky in this race โ€“ if he’s behind at all.

MORE: Full breakdown of Kenny Pickett’s preseason debut against Seahawks

Mason Rudolph stats, preseason highlights

Rudolph has performed well in the preseason, but it seems he’s lagging behind in overall quarterback competition. He was dropped to the third string ahead of the second week of preseason after Pickett’s great debut and will remain in third place going into the finals.

Rudolph has thrown more passes than any other Pittsburgh quarterback, going 26 of 36 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He’s lived up to the deep ball hype that Tomlin cited as one of his strengths.

Rudolph has been relegated to the third row while Pickett and Trubisky compete for the starting job. He has an outside chance to move up quickly and take the position but it seems unlikely.

Still, Tomlin was impressed with his efforts and had nothing but praise for him after dissecting Jacksonville’s defense.

I thought he looked like a college guy in a JV game and I told him that. You know, it was reminiscent of when we had Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich as backups. When you have a veteran like that at quarterback late in a preseason game, he should be the best player on the field. It should show. And I thought it did.

What is Rudolph holding back? It’s twofold. First, he’s not as mobile as Trubisky and Pickett. Both have good scrambling skills, while Rudolph is a big-armed picket.

The other problem is ball safety. Like both Trubisky and Pickett, Rudolph has yet to turn the ball in his action. However, he fumbled the ball twice during his action while neither Trubisky nor Pickett was credited with one.

These two issues are likely to keep Rudolph at #3 on Pittsburgh’s depth chart. However, there remains an outside chance he could be traded and he has been linked with the Lions in the last week. So if the Steelers can get an edge on him, they can make a deal to get away from their likely third-string quarterback.

MORE: When could Kenny Pickett start for the Steelers?

Steelers QB depth map projection

Currently, the Steelers depth chart at quarterback looks like this.

rank quarterback
1 Mitch Trubisky
2 Kenny Pickett
3 Mason Rudolph
4 Chris Oladokun

The quarterback fight that begins appears to be shaping up to be a two-man fight between Trubisky and Pickett. Rudolph, on the other hand, seems trapped in the third-string role early in the season โ€” if he sticks with it.

Oladokun appears to be an option for the Practice Squad at this point. He hasn’t played preseason yet, so the seventh-round rookie could take this campaign as a redshirt season.

No matter how you slice it, the Steelers have options, and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top after Sunday’s preseason finale against the Lions. The game begins at 4:30 p.m. ET and will officially close the 2022 NFL preseason once it is over.

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