Could a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada prolong future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s career?
ESPN’s Brooke Pryor certainly seems to believe so.
With Canada stepping in for former OC Randy Fichtner, the Steelers may have a slightly different look offensively in 2021, featuring more pre-snap motion, under-center work, and a power running game designed to take some of the load off of Roethlisberger’s right arm, which attempted 608 passes in 2020 — good for the second-highest total of his career.
That total came in the first year Roethlisberger returned from a season-ending elbow injury that required surgery. With Roethlisberger taking a $5 million pay cut to return in 2021 — along with adding voidable years to his contract to reduce the salary cap charge this season, effectively making 2021 his last year under contract with the Steelers — if the Steelers want to prolong there future Hall of Famer’s career a couple more years, what happened last season can’t happen again this year, especially down the stretch.
That’s where an improved running game and a revamped offensive line will come into play, along with Canada’s scheme.
As Pryor writes, Canada isn’t reinventing the wheel with his scheme, which he has said in the past is rather simple to learn and relies heavily on players.
However, it will be a bit of a challenge for someone like Roethlisberger, who will have to learn different verbiage and concepts under Canada’s guidance.
“When you’ve had the same offense or similar offense for 17 years and then all of a sudden something looks the exact same but is called something completely different, it is very difficult, and it is a big challenge,” Roethlisberger said during media availability Wednesday. “But that’s the game of football, learning new things and new challenges.”
Learning new things and new challenges could prolong Roethlisberger’s career another couple of seasons, Pryor writes, by allowing the scheme and the added playmakers in guys like running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth to help re-establish a consistent rushing attack that seemingly disappeared the last two seasons, forcing the Steelers to air it out offensively.
Having an offense that can run the football consistently and give opposing defenses multiple looks week to week, let alone snap to snap, will do nothing but good for Roethlisberger and the Steelers in his 18th season.
“We have gone under center, we have shotgun, he has more motion,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday, teasing what could be different under Canada. “But I feel like that is where the NFL is going right now, a lot of the jet-sweep motions and stuff. I can go under center — I never said I didn’t like it. We will be in the gun, we will move. Like I said earlier, we will throw a lot of different looks and schemes and things at people and see what works.”
Last season, that wasn’t the case for the Steelers as Roethlisberger had to take on a significant workload with his surgically-repaired right elbow just to ensure the Steelers remained competitive down the stretch with no run game in sight, and an aging offensive line that couldn’t stay healthy and couldn’t keep opposing pass rushers from putting heat on him in the pocket.
Pittsburgh certainly had early-season success with some of Canada’s concepts, including the jet sweep and significant pre-snap usage. That all disappeared though as the Steelers became predictable under Fichtner down the stretch as defenses adjusted while the Steelers simply didn’t.
With a full year under Canada calling the shots offensively, that hopefully won’t be the case in 2021.
“Coach Canada’s offense is one that hopefully will be a good one, and we need to execute the plays that he calls and hopefully we will be a better offense than we were last year,” Roethlisberger said.
Who knows: With a new offensive scheme designed to be simple, give defenses multiple looks and find the best matchups possible pre-snap, there’s no telling how long it could prolong Roethlisberger’s career, especially if he doesn’t have to sling the rock 50 times a game in his 18th season in the black and gold.