Steelers OC Matt Canada: ‘All Our Plays Have Answers in Zone And Man’

Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers through their first four regular season games of 2021 we have had to talk quite a bit about failed fourth down plays in key moments. In the team’s Week 4 road loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers’ offense failed to convert two key fourth downs and neither were close to being successful plays. One of those failed fourth down plays was an underneath pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster against a zone defense that the Packers wound up running. Smith-Schuster talked about that play after the game.

“So, that route, it’s basically a shallow route,” Smith-Schuster said. “So, we’re basically going to pick for one another. The defense they called, that route is a man-beater route, the defense that they called was a zone defense. And I tried to reach to reach for a first down, I tried to get something out of it, knowing that I could possibly fumble or whatever that may be, but trying to give our team a chance.”

On Thursday, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada met the media for his weekly session, and the questioning opened with him being asked about that failed fourth down pass to Smith-Schuster and how the wide receiver indicated his route was a man-beater that was run against a zone defense. Canada was asked what the procedure is for getting out of bad situations such as that particular one on Sunday against the Packers.

“To be honest, all our plays have answers in zone and man, so play didn’t work,” Canada said. “It’s my fault. The play didn’t work, it’s my fault. You know, every play we have has a zone-beater and a man-beater, but that play didn’t work. So, it’s my fault and that’s it.”

Smith-Schuster’s route on that referenced play was part of a mesh concept between he and fellow wide receiver James Washington. Washington set the mesh and Smith-Schuster ran underneath it. Mesh works best as a man-coverage beater, as it attempts to “pick” the defenders running into each other at the mesh point. With the Packers defense playing zone, there was no man defender to pick off Smith-Schuster, and while he did catch the pass from Roethlisberger, he was quickly tackled by the defender waiting for him in the next zone.

It’s worth noting that there was quick pressure on the play as guard Kevin Dotson lost his footing not long after the snap of the football. That pressure forced Roethlisberger to get rid of the football quickly.

The only other legitimate option that Roethlisberger likely had on that play was to hit wide receiver Diontae Johnson via a vertical hole shot down the right side. It looked like Johnson may have been Roethlisberger’s first look on that play, but after choosing not to throw his way, all he had was Smith-Schuster underneath on the shallow crosser.

Another topic of conversation related to that play has been whether or not Roethlisberger had the ability to check to a different play once he saw the Packers were in a zone defense and that assumes he would have had time to that with the play clock getting close to expiring after all players in the formation were set at their spots. Canada was asked on Thursday if Roethlisberger has the ability to check out of such plays as the failed ones on Sunday.

“You know, our system is what it is,” Canada said. “And those plays didn’t work and it’s my fault.”

So, generally speaking when it comes to Canadas’s system, does the quarterback have freedom or leeway to check out of plays if he needs to?

“Yeah, I mean, we’ve got a system in place to try to, you know, check plays, move, plays, all those things we try to do and we’re working through that the best way we can,” Canada said. “And Ben [Roethlisberger] and I are always trying to get ourselves in the right place, through communication, through what we see but it all falls on me. And at this point we’ve lost three games, so it’s not going well enough. So, until we start winning, all that comes into play. But I think in our building, we know where we’re at. We know what we got to do better and we’re trying to do that, but until we do it, you know, we just have to keep working.”

The offense certainly does need to keep working and especially when it comes to their fourth down plays. While Canada is doing a noble thing of falling on the sword so far this season, he’s having to do it way too much. He and Roethlisberger need to get this offense back on track and producing more points starting on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. If they don’t, Canada will need to be taking even more blame for failed plays a week from now with the Steelers 1-4 through five games.

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