Sunday is not the best day to be an NFL quarterback. A few passers who were spinning during the first three weeks of the season didn’t turn things around in week four. It looks like one of them paid the price with his job, as Mitch Trubisky was sent to the bench at halftime for the Steelers, who turned into a rookie. Kenny Pickett, selected in the first round. Unfortunately for coach Mike Tomlin’s team, Pickett then grabbed three interceptions to send the Jets to a 24–20 loss.

There’s just under a quarter of the season in the books (thank you, 17-game schedule), which is about the time teams have enough game records to start seriously rethinking their off-season decisions. Teams desperate to turn things around after a slow start are about to make adjustments. Some of them may be schematic. We can see teams changing players in different ways or even making changes to less visible parts of their roster.

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However, replacing a quarterback is the most important decision a coach can make. Think about how it changed the Titans in 2019 when Ryan Tannehill led the team 2-4 and helped them reach the AFC Championship game. The same move can tear a team apart and fire a coach, as Doug Pederson of the Eagles realized when he replaced Carson Wentz to replace Jalen Hurts in 2020.

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It’s not fun to cheer for quarterbacks on the bench, but it would be naive to ignore what’s going on or wonder what teams can do to jump-start their offense in the coming weeks. Let’s talk about the situation in Pittsburgh and then move on to a few other quarterback jobs in the NFL where a current player could be in danger. Making a move too early is risky, but I wonder if the Steelers made their move too late:

Go to team with bad QB play:
Atlanta | Carolina | Houston
New Orleans | Pittsburgh | Washington

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tomlin is one of the best football coaches. I don’t like to disagree with the 50-year-old Steelers leader because he has more than earned the doubt he needs over the last 15+ seasons. I may sometimes disagree with some of his game management decisions, but just because I don’t think he’s necessarily the most analytical-focused coach in the league doesn’t mean he can’t be aggressive or make wise decisions from time to time. You won’t live 15 years without losing unless you’re a smart operator.

That being said, I’m not sure I understand how and why Tomlin made the choice he made over the past two weeks as a quarterback. After Trubisky struggled for the third week in a row in a 29-17 loss to the Browns in Week 3, Tomlin publicly refused to even consider about changing quarterbacks before Sunday’s game against the Jets. After speculation earlier in September that the Steelers might keep Pickett on the bench for all seasonTomlin didn’t seem to be close to making any changes.

And then, losing 10-6 at halftime on Sunday, he suddenly changed his mind. Trubisky left, Pickett entered. Tomlin said he feels like he’s on the team.”need a spark“Maybe Pickett got too hot. The rookie went 10 of 13 for 120 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns in his debut, but he threw three interceptions, including a Hail Mary pick, to end the fight.

Tomlin rightly said that the team needed a spark. I have only one follow-up question: What changed? The Steelers won against Cincinnati in Game 1, but it took five runs, a blocked extra point, and an injured ranger to do so. Trubisky was not a significant part of the crime. In their second week, they scored 14 points over nine discs in a loss to the Patriots. Four days later, Trubisky & Co. scored 17 points in 10 significant fights in a loss to the Browns. Didn’t they also need a spark then? Wasn’t it clear they’d need a spark against the Jets before the game even started?