George Pickens blocking controversy: Why Mike Tomlin is at odds with Steelers WR over lack of effort

It’s been a less than ideal season for the Steelers after the team fired its offensive coordinator in Week 11, has had to deal with multiple injury setbacks, losses to teams deemed to be lesser competition, and now lack of effort from players like wide receiver George Pickens.

Head coach Mike Tomlin has expressed some disappointment in the product Pickens has delivered both on the field where work ethic is concerned, as well as his way of handling the media that has sparked controversy.

Here’s everything to know about the situation at hand.

MORE: Why the NFL suspended Steelers’ Damontae Kazee for the rest of the season

Why are Mike Tomlin and George Pickens at odds?

There have been some questions surrounding Pickens’ effort on the field and whether or not he’s truly given everything he has every time he’s playing.

And it’s not just the media and the fan base that are expressing concern. Tomlin sees it too. 

As was clearly reflected at Georgia, Pickens brings no shortage of talent to the table and is a rare player in multiple aspects. But none of that can be used to its full potential if the intangibles aren’t there on a consistent basis.

“George is a talented guy but he’s growing and growing in a lot of ways in regards to football and life,” Tomlin said, via ESPN. “We don’t run away from that. We run to that organizationally when we draft guys. We’re committed to being a component of their growth and development in all areas.”

Pickens himself gave a response that incited mixed emotions when he was pressed about the issue, asked why he appeared to give up on the play after Julian Blackmon intercepted Mitch Trubisky in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s Week 15 game against the Colts, and failed to block for his teammate Jaylen Warren in a play near the goal line that could have gone for a touchdown.

The wideout said he did not want a “Tank Dell situation,” referencing the Texans receiver who suffered a fractured fibula after trying to block on a run play near the goal line.

“I didn’t want to get injured,” Pickens told reporters. “When you stay in and block somebody, you can get run on very easily. … Everybody is mad when you lose. … A lot of media guys want to say it’s my frustrations, but it’s losing. I’m pretty sure everyone is mad, not just me.”

Some viewed this as an immature response, and Tomlin has expressed wanting Pickens to carry himself in a more professional manner around the media moving forward. 

“When you’re winning and doing your jobs, a lot of the attention is on things such as that,” Tomlin said. “When you’re not doing your job and losing, you better keep your damn mouth shut and understand that that tracks a certain type of attention, as well. And usually that’s vulture-like attention.”

MORE: Why did the Steelers bench Mitch Trubisky for Mason Rudolph?

George Pickens stats

Here’s a look at Pickens’ complete stats from the 2023 season to this point as the year winds down for a team that was once expected to compete for a division title, but instead sits at the bottom of the AFC North with a 7-7 overall record.

If Pickens and the team can hit an upswing, though, they stand a chance at making a postseason run if they win their last three games on the schedule facing the Bengals, Seahawks and Ravens.

So far this season, Pickens totals 52 catches for 814 yards with three touchdowns. He has also carried the ball twice for 15 yards and has one fumble.

Opponent Receptions Targets Yards TDs
Colts 3 7 47 0
Patriots 5 6 19 0
Cardinals 4 5 86 0
Bengals 3 5 58 0
Browns 4 6 38 0
Packers 3 4 45 0
Titans 2 5 -1 0
Jaguars 1 5 22 1
Rams 5 8 107 0
Ravens 6 10 130 1
Texans 3 7 25 0
Raiders 4 6 75 0
Browns 4 10 127 1
49ers 5 7 36 0
Season total 52 91 814 3


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