Opening drives can be multi-purpose. As Mike Tomlin noted Tuesday, they can be informational, an opportunity to understand what your opponent is trying to do. While Matt Canada agrees with that, his mentality is the same whether it’s the first or last drive. Put points on the board.
Talking with reporters Thursday, Canada made his goals crystal clear.
“We only wanna score,” Canada said in team-provided audio when asked about balancing intel versus protection. “Obviously you do try to see things in that but it’s still a comfort level for what we think we can do. Obviously it’s a little bit more trying to score and be successful and then getting to those looks and things. You guys have watched, there’s a little bit of both. We’re trying to see certain things. But it certainly always goes back to what our guys like. What Ben wants and trying to find those looks as you’re mentioning but also what we like.”
Fans have been critical for the way Pittsburgh has started games this year. To an extent, that criticism is valid and to an extent, it’s not. Canada has greatly improved the team’s opening-drive success, five scoring drives this season with four of them ending in the end zone. That’s one of the league’s better numbers this year, and a night-and-day difference from the past two seasons where the team had just one opening drive TD across 2019-2020.
However, the Steelers have struggled in the first half as a whole, ranking 25th in points over the first 30 minutes of play. So big-picture, Pittsburgh has played from behind too far often this season or been unable to put away teams early in games, allowing clubs like Seattle to stage comebacks and nearly win.
Canada knows the team has missed chances, too, like Chris Boswell’s field goal attempt against the Vikings that sailed wide left.
“We’ve had some drives. Obviously we missed a field goal, I think on the first drive last game. And we had a turnover two games before. We’re continuing to work on that. It’s been a point of emphasis. Obviously, sometimes it works, sometimes it hasn’t. We continue to change a little bit here and there and to try to make it better, but we just have to make plays at the right times.”
Coaches are always playing the cat-and-mouse game of figuring out how to exploit the opponent. But none of it takes away from the ultimate goal of scoring. Pittsburgh’s offense ranks 21st in points per game, so there’s no drive to “waste” on gathering information. And, as Canada notes, sometimes it’s best to play within yourself instead of trying to call the perfect play your offense isn’t equipped to run.