Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects quarterback Kenny Pickett to bounce back in Week 2.
Of course, the second-year quarterback has nowhere to go but up following a poor performance in the season opener. Pickett threw for 232 yards against the 49ers but most of the yards came on a 95-yard drive after the outcome had also but been decided as San Francisco rolled to a 30-7 at Acrisure Stadium.
Pickett has a chance to redeem himself when the Steelers host the Cleveland Browns at 8:15 p.m. Monday. The Browns are coming off a 24-3 dismantling of the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.
“Just his commitment,” Tomlin said of why he is confident Pickett will play better. “There’s football justice when you work at it, you generally get good things that come out of it. This is a guy that’s fully committed. This is a guy that works his tail off. Largely those guys create their own fortune. That is my general tenor about the trajectory of him and his career, also in the short term.
“It’s reasonable to expect guys that work the way he works, and prepares the way he prepares, to bounce back from negative performance. Individually and collectively, I expect this group to do similar things.”
Pickett completed 31 of 46 passes with one touchdown, two interceptions and a 68.4 passer rating. He had a higher rating in seven of his last eight starts last season when he came on strong late in his rookie year.
“We just didn’t execute honestly,” Pickett said of the Week 1 woes. “I think it was more us than them. I felt comfortable with what I was seeing and what they were doing. We just didn’t execute like we needed to.”
If the Steelers are to even their record at 1-1, they will have to beat the Browns despite missing two of their key players.
All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward injured his groin in the opener and is expected to miss multiple weeks. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson will also sit out Sunday with a hamstring injury a year after his 86 receptions easily led the Steelers.
The Steelers will use a combination of three young defensive lineman to take Heyward’s place — Isaiahh Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal and rookie Keeanu Benton. Heyward has been selected to six Pro Bowls in his 13-year career.
“Replacing Cam is not a one-man job,” Tomlin said. “It is a multiple-man job and a coach’s job, because it changes your schematics when you lose significant players and so we all acknowledge that, and we all run to that not away from that. That’s an opportunity for us to show what team is about things that we hold near and dear like ‘next man up.’
“Cam is not the type of guy that moves away from his teammates, whether he’s participating in or not. And so, you know, some of the intangible things, some of the things that you get day to day outside of the white lines. I will still receive the benefit of that but make no mistake. There’s enough for us to do replacing his tangible contributions, his play, his presence and so forth.”
As for replacing Johnson, Tomlin said that much like Heyward, the team will look within for answers. Second-year pro Calvin Austin and Allen Robinson figure to get more targets with Johnson sidelined.
Austin led the Steelers with six receptions in the loss to the 49ers in his NFL debut after missing last season with a broken bone in his foot. The veteran Robinson, acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in an offseason trade, had five catches for a team-high 64 yards in Week 1.
“I feel real comfortable with our in-house people,” Tomlin said.