Emotions are still raw less than 24 hours after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Wild Card loss, a bitter end to a hard-fought season. Another game in which the offense did largely nothing for three quarters only to stat pad a bit when the game was over. While execution was undoubtedly an issue, WR Diontae Johnson seemed to express at least some level of frustration or at the least, the reality that some of the Steelers’ playcalls didn’t put them in favorable situations.
He touched on the topic in a Monday Zoom call with local media.
“There were times where we would see certain stuff out there that we would see, we just felt like certain stuff wasn’t going our way at times,” he said via Steelers.com. “But at the end of the day, we can just do what the coaches tell us to do. We talk amongst each other about what we see out there, but like I said, certain things weren’t going our way. Certain playcalls, we just weren’t getting what we wanted to get the offense going. We could just only do what we’re told to do at the of the day.”
That’s one of those Rorschach Test answers where each person might read in what they want to read in. But it’s hard not to feel like there’s at least a slight to Matt Canada’s playcalling, especially with comments like “We could just only do what we’re told to do.” Which sounds like Johnson saying, the plays are doomed pre-snap and the offense just has to try and make it work.
Johnson was asked to follow-up on his comments but declined to get into specifics.
“I don’t want to get too much into that. “They know what plays to call at the end of the day that work and what don’t work. Like I said, we can only control what we can control.”
He cited a lack of a consistent run game as one offensive issue, “bringing the energy down” and putting the defense on the field more often. While the Steelers’ run game occasionally showed flashes it didn’t show last season, it is far from fixed.
Playcalling alone wasn’t the only issue Sunday night. Johnson himself struggled with drops and miscommunication, though in theory, the latter could be compounded by bad initial playcalls that forced audibles and checks at the line of scrimmage. But execution did not make up for any potential issue with the team’s playcalling.
Reviewing the season, Canada’s struggles to win the chess game might be his biggest flaw. It’s been less of an individual issue, failing to put specific players in position to succeed. If anything, he’s shown bright spots there, especially with Johnson, effectively using his quickness and change-of-direction, especially in the low red zone.
We noted some of these macro-issues against the Titans after Week 15 in a film room, concluding:
“Pittsburgh had tons of self-inflicted wounds Sunday, but even schematically, they stayed one step behind Tennessee.”
That is a good summary of last night’s loss, and probably applies over the entire season. Now, it’s a question of if Canada will return as OC in 2022 to build whatever comes next in the post-Roethlisberger era, or if the Steelers choose to start fresh on both fronts, quarterback and coordinator. If there’s a time to start anew, it’s now, as opposed to waiting another year and change coordinators a year into a potential rookie’s career.
With the Senior Bowl fast approaching, the Steelers should provide answers sooner than later.