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Steelers' Mike Tomlin names rookie QB Kenny Pickett as starter ahead of Bills matchup

Let the Kenny Pickett era begin in Pittsburgh.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin confirmed Tuesday the rookie first-round pick will make the start in Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills in place of Mitchell Trubisky.

"Kenny will start this week," Tomlin told reporters. "We made the change, obviously. Mitch's performance was a component of the decision, but not the only component of the decision. I just want to be really clear there. Oftentimes the quarterback position gets too much credit, too much blame. We haven't moved the ball fluently enough to our liking. We hadn't put enough points on the board. The quarterback is a component of that, but not the only component. We've all got to absorb the responsibility that comes with what we haven't done, particularly in that phase. Including myself and starting with myself."

Pickett replaced Trubisky in the second half of Week 4's loss to the New York Jets and brought some juice, rushing for two touchdowns to give the Steelers a fourth-quarter lead they couldn't hang onto.

While he threw three interceptions, including a Hail Mary heave to end the game, Pickett's athleticism behind a faulty offensive line showed up Sunday as he was able to avoid pressure. Pickett also displayed better touch on back-shoulder throws than Trubisky has in 2022.

Tomlin said the decision to go to the rookie wasn't based solely on Trubisky's performance, but he felt the team needed a spark.

"When you make a quarterback change, you're really sensitive to that component of it because I don't want to dump the responsibility of what transpired at Mitch's feet," Tomlin said. "That's not fair to him -- he's played better than that description -- but we haven't. So, in an effort to be better, in an effort to score more points, in an effort to move the ball more fluently, we decided to go to Kenny in the hopes that he will provide a spark for us.

"We felt that not only in terms of our ability to move the ball but just in terms of energy. Hopefully, that's a catalyst for us as we try to move forward and change the outcome of some of these games. Our business is winning, and we're about our business. We've lost three games in a row and we've got a formidable opponent this week. A lot of things to be excited about, a lot of things to have urgency regarding, and that's just a component of it. So I thought that was deserving of extended time and discussion there."

Tomlin added that as a team captain, Trubisky will still go out for the coin toss Sunday against the Bills, the QB's previous team.

The only first-round quarterback in 2022, Tomlin believes Pickett is ready for the moment.

"Kenny has shown us maturity at every point throughout this process," he said. "He's older than most rookies and that was obvious to us leading up to the draft process. The things that we valued in him from a draft perspective -- fluid and quick decision-making, pro-like anticipation and things of that nature have proven to be true. That's why we took him when we were given the opportunity to do so. Since we've acquired him he's done nothing but fortify that thought process and make some plays during team development and during the preseason. He's continually gotten better even after the regular season has started. Those of us that are here day to day from a practice standpoint know and understand that and see the progress. It's equally important to see his mature and professional approach to readiness. We're excited for him and about him."

For Pickett, Sunday against Buffalo is a stiff first start against one of the best defenses in the NFL and a D-line that brings pressure in waves. Given the offensive line struggles in Pittsburgh this season, the rookie could be on the run often come Sunday.

"We have no reservations about what Kenny is going to be capable of in terms of our schematics," Tomlin said of the rookie heading into Buffalo. "Obviously, we have a level of concern about the environment we're taking him into, but you have a level of concern about any quarterback that you take into that environment versus that defense in that venue."

The Bills are tied for first in the NFL, allowing 234.5 yards per game, second in yards per play (4.2), and fifth in sacks with 13 despite blitzing a league-low 8.8 percent. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Pittsburgh offense after Week 5 either, with matchups against the Bucs, Dolphins and Eagles on tap.

After resisting a QB change, the Steelers are now full-speed ahead with Pickett under center. Starting 1-3 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1934-1935 (as the Pittsburgh Pirates), the Steelers are searching for the spark it hopes the rookie can provide.

"I think he provided a spark in game that's tangible," Tomlin said. "But I think it goes beyond that. I think he's kind of provided that spark since we've been stepping in stadiums. It's just a component of who he is as a player and a quarterback. The things that he does and communicates. His competitive spirit. It's a positive catalysis for us."

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