With veterans getting together over the last two weeks, we have our first chance to compare and contrast the Randy Fichtner-led offense versus the one spearheaded by new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. So far, the differences have been expected. Ben Roethlisberger gave an assessment of what he’s seeing in a conversation with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
“He’s got more motion,” he told reporters via Zoom. “But I feel like that’s where the NFL is kind of going right now. A lot of the jet sweep motions and stuff.”
Roethlisberger is right, the league has quickly trended in that direction as motion-heavy offenses have trickled up from the college game. Canada himself came from the college ranks, the Steelers being his first NFL gig. He’s expected to bring that college vibe with him.
As our Tom Mead recently looked at, the Steelers had a high motion rate on their 15 “scripted” plays last season. That number fell after that, however, a sign that Fichtner’s playcalling took over and included a lot less of it.
Roethlisberger said the offense will have a mix of being under center and in shotgun this season.
“I can go under center. Never said I didn’t like it. We’ll be under center. We’ll be in the gun. We’ll move. I mean, like I said earlier, we’ll throw a lot of different looks and schemes and things at people and see what works.”
Though he’s never come out and said it, the Steelers have worked under center as little as any team for several years. It’s one reason why their play action numbers are woeful both in frequency and effectiveness. It remains to be seen if those numbers will change under Canada. One compromise is the use of pistol, a topic we wrote about months ago, to help with play action and the run game while keeping Roethlisberger away from center.
He also said the offense will have a much different feel with Canada as OC.
“I think this offense is going to be completely different. You’ll see nothing that you’ve ever seen in the past. We’re going to try and just throw literally everything at everybody.”
Naming Canada as the OC was a quasi out-of-house hire. He served as the team’s QB coach in 2020, but choosing him was a departure from long-time assistant coaches climbing the Steelers’ ladder. Ken Whisenhunt was the team’s tight ends coach for three seasons before his promotion to OC. Ditto with Bruce Arians, the wide receivers coach from 2004 to 2006 before his promotion. And Fichtner had been with the team since 2007 before replacing Todd Haley for the 2018 year. Roethlisberger admitted it’s a big change in how the offense looks and is called.
“It’s definitely harder when you’ve had kind of the same offense or a very similar offense for 17 years. And then all of a sudden something is called that looks the exact same but is called something completely different. It’s very difficult. It’s a big challenge. But that’s the game of football, learning new things and new challenges. Coach Canada’s offense is one that hopefully it will be a good one and we need to execute the plays that he calls.”
The Steelers’ offense will look to become more efficient than they did a year ago. That means improving their abysmal run game, specifically converting on 3rd and short. It means fewer dropped passes and converting more in the red zone, hopefully hitting the 70% mark in 2021. Last year, they found the end zone on just 63% of their trips inside the 20.