If you know anything about Warren Sharp, one of the most well-respected draft and NFL analysts, you probably know that he’s not a big fan of the running back position as a feature, but rather as a complement. He opposes using a first round pick on a back, short of drafting somebody like Barry Sanders in a system that can support him.
Recently appearing on 93.7 The Fan, he talked about his views and how they might relate to Pittsburgh, noting that the average run in the NFL produces a negative expected value, which he explains means that it brings a team further away from scoring points.
While he says that you do need to run the ball, the goal is to scheme and time the runs when it is an optimal time to do so, and you need to have the support of a run-blocking offensive line and a play-caller who knows when to run.
Sharp remains against the Steelers using a first round pick on a running back, but he does at least think that the play-calling will improve. “I think your offense is going to look better with Matt Canada there,” he offered, though he added that “it can’t get much worse than what it looked like last year.”
The Steelers were among the least efficient offenses in the league last season, finishing 32nd in yards per rush at 3.6, and 24th in yards per pass attempt at 6.0. If you take sacks out of the equation, the ranking would surely be even worse than that.
Randy Fichtner has been the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, and thus play-caller, for the past three seasons. He led the team to the most efficient redzone offense in the league in his first season on the job in 2018, and then the worst a year later. They were in the middle of the pack on third down and in the red zone this past season.
But perhaps the most fatal flaw of the 2020 offense is that there was a lack of flexibility, despite lip service in support of it. The Steelers had a system that worked for most of the year. Teams responded to their approach as the season wore on, to the point where it nearly ground to a halt.
The Steelers need Canada to be more adaptable and unpredictable in order to manage this offense. Part of that is, as Sharp suggests, for the sake of the running game, with which you need to pick your battles if you don’t have Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray at quarterback.
While Canada was known for his play-calling during his college career and even consulted NFL teams in recent years, he is a novice on the job at the NFL level, the 2020 season being his first in the league, serving as quarterbacks coach. He’s got a lot on his plate, and not as much to work with as you would hope.