According to QB Dwayne Haskins, if you want a picture of what the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense will look like this season, turn on some old Maryland tape. In a Thursday Zoom call, Haskins broke down what playing in a Matt Canada offense has been like.
“It’s been fun,” Haskins told reporters. “A lot of the stuff Coach Canada did or does is what he did at Maryland when he was there and I was in college…as far as the concepts, they’re not completely different. Even some stuff from my first year at Washington as far as West Coast concepts and schemes of that nature. A lot of variety in what he’s doing.”
Haskins’ Buckeyes met Canada and the Terrapins in 2018. Ohio State won the day in a wild one, a 52-51 overtime thriller. Maryland’s offense put up over 500 yards that day. Haskins himself threw for over 400 while Steelers’ RB Anthony McFarland nearly ran for 300 for Maryland. Now, they’re all in Pittsburgh.
Like Haskins mentioned, Canada is bringing some West Coast flair to the Steelers’ offense. It can be a little difficult pinning down exactly what that means. The West Coast roots come from an under-center, quick, methodical passing game. Invented by Bill Walsh, it was born in Cincinnati but popularized in San Francisco, earning its “West Coast” label.
From Tim Layden’s excellent book Blood, Sweat, and Chalk here’s how Walsh’s offense is described.
“It was the first pass offense in which timing was the critical element…Walsh’s scheme put more emphasis on shorter, more horizontal routes.”
Which tracks with what we’ve heard from Canada and even Kevin Colbert. An emphasis on the horizontal game. The WCO is about three and five-step dropbacks and getting the ball out quickly. No QB released the ball sooner than Ben Roethlisberger did last season.
Layden’s book goes on to describe other elements of the offense.
“Walsh’s offense used countless routes in which receivers – sometimes multiple receivers – would run all the across a formation, virtually sideline to sideline, forcing a defense to stretch itself across the field until openings inevitably developed.”
Deep crossers and over routes might become extremely popular concepts in Pittsburgh. Knowing how much the Steelers’ offense struggled vertically last year, the horizontal stretch might be what the offense leans on.
Other elements of the West Coast include boots and rollouts, things we’ve heard and see from players already. That may be less practical with a 39-year old Roethlisberger, but there could be an uptick in moving the pocket under Canada.
Haskins said the offense is similar to what he did his rookie year with Washington. That was led by head coach/offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, also a proponent of the West Coast offense. Couple that with a zone blocking scheme in the run game and it’s probably worth turning on some 2019 Washington tape to get a feel for how the Steelers’ offense may look. Just hopefully with better results.
The good news is we’re only about a month away from getting our eyes on Canada’s offense at training camp and can really begin to understand what this unit will look like in 2021.