I know we’re only two games into the year. It’s early. And any loss brings discouragement and disappointment, especially a home opener that could’ve had the Pittsburgh Steelers sitting pretty at 2-0 on the year. But with a lackluster offense for a second straight week and coming off a 2021 season that was just as ugly, it feels like frustration has boiled over with the way Matt Canada is running the Steelers’ offense.
You heard it from Mitch Trubisky, who offered a terse response when asked why the team wasn’t throwing the ball over the middle of the field.
“Call concepts to get receivers there,” he said.
On its face, it sounds like a pretty direct shot at his offensive coordinator. It feels like that even more considering last Thursday, Matt Canada was asked the same question, how to get more passes thrown and caught between the numbers. His answer?
“Throw it there.”
Quarterback says there aren’t enough calls there. Coordinator says there aren’t enough throws there. Doesn’t sound like two guys who are working in-sync as every good QB/OC pairing should be. But that was just one comment. What Pat Freiermuth said was even more striking. Here’s how he explained some of the offensive woes.
“We just gotta do stuff that we’re comfortable with and do stuff that [we do] more consistently in practice. I think that we’re good at certain things and I think we need to get to those faster.”
Freiermuth didn’t specify what those things are, but it definitely isn’t anything happening on the field. Pittsburgh’s offense has scored just two touchdowns in its first two games, something that hasn’t happened since 2013. In an era where offenses have more freedom and firepower than ever before, the Steelers are again stuck in decades long forgotten. A lack of chunk plays. Three yards and a cloud of dust. 18 points a game won’t cut it in 2022. Despite changes at quarterback and a strong-looking receiver room plus Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth entering their second year, the offense has been statistically worse than they were a year ago. Growing pains remain, but excuses are running out.
While Freiermuth didn’t divulge what exactly he wants to see done differently, he seemed to hint at the offense being too conservative.
“I think we just trust our quarterback and trust our guys to go down there and make plays. It’s just pretty simple. Just trust each other.”
Then there was Chase Claypool who essentially said “go ask the coaches” when asked about the struggling offense that failed to make plays downfield.
Three players making similar comments postgame. We like to call that a trend. Just think about the guys who the media didn’t talk to or ones who bit their tongue.
Pittsburgh went into the season with an identity similar to what they had in 2019, the last time they played without Ben Roethlisberger. Don’t turn the ball over, let the defense keep the score down, squeak out a late win. With that comes the ideas that sacks are better than tight-coverage throws, that punting isn’t bad, and that taking a profit is all a quarterback should be concerned with. The problem is that the Steelers’ defense isn’t quite as elite in 2022 as they were in 2019, especially not without T.J. Watt, and the offensive weapons are better this season than three years ago when Mason Rudolph or Duck Hodges were handing off to Benny Snell and throwing to Tevin Jones.
While Trubisky isn’t anything more than average at his best, this offense can be more aggressive than it has. The playmakers can make plays. And they’re being handcuffed by a lot of issues, communication errors, a quarterback who clearly isn’t in the long-term plans, but also an offensive coordinator who doesn’t want to lose a game. For players who are always the most confident in themselves and their teammates, there’s natural frustration from guys like Freiermuth. The Steelers’ offense has been too bad for too long as they watch everyone else in the league, and especially in the North, run successful offenses.
Canada’s offense has been run the way he’s run his others. College-style. Strict, controlled, within structure and generally conservative. Through his first 19 games as OC, it hasn’t worked in that vision. Pair that with the Steelers’ current model of winning, an organization that doesn’t mind its offense trying to do “just enough,” and you have some frustrated players on that side of the football. I’ll admit my argument is a bit infallible; none of these players are ever going to call out the OC and will deny any direct questions about how much falls on Canada. And this isn’t all his fault, far from it. It’s all been a disjointed mess and players aren’t absolved from the errors. But we can read the tea leaves and the frustration is pretty clear.
Winning cures all, and if the Steelers can get back on track, all is forgiven and forgotten. If not, you’re going to hear these comments slip out more and more and Matt Canada could have the same outcome as his past stops. A very short stay.