Film Room: Another Example Of Matt Canada’s Predictability

If you’re not a fan of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, this post is for you. And there’s another coming your way tomorrow. I’m generally one to loathe the idea of a coach being predictable. A vague catch-all that means everything and nothing and often isn’t backed up by evidence. But the more I watch this Canada-run offense, the more I keep going back to that word. Predictable. 

Re=watching the Buffalo Bills’ tape, something stuck out to Dave Bryan and myself. One particular passing concept reoccurring on screen over and over again. I’ve gone back and charted it and there was a clear – and predictable – trend. Let’s talk about it.

The concept I’m referring to today doesn’t have a specific name I can attach to it. But it’s a simple three-man route from a 3×1 formation. Two outside receivers run vertical and break their route off based on leverage with a slot receiver bending his route over the middle of the field. The back and tight end chip and check release into the flat. On paper, here’s how it looks. This is a little crude but this is the idea. We’ll take it to the tape in a second.

It took until seven minutes left in the second quarter but Canada called this play on 1st and 10 again and again. Charting through this game, he called it seven times, all on 1st and 10, six in Steelers’ territory, and five out of 11 personnel, all 3×1 formations with the trips set to the field and the back set away. Here’s how it’s drawn up.

Again, the receivers on the outside break off their route based on the DBs leverage so their routes look a bit different. But the concept is the same. Vertical routes by the #1 receivers, #2 running a bender, the back and tight end chipping and releasing into the flats as checkdown options.

Here’s the first example, Pickett taking a profit and checking down to TE Zach Gentry who picks up a first down. Chase Claypool is frustrated by not getting the ball but at least Pickett moved the sticks.

As Dave noted, Canada called the next two in quick order, on two of three plays. At the end of the first half, on 1st and 10 from the Steelers own 27, Canada called it again. Another dump off  to Najee Harris for five.

After a Von Miller offsides gave the Steelers 1st and 10, Canada went right back to it. On the play above, the Bills disguise and rotate to Cover 2 and Canada wants Pickett to hit Diontae Johnson for a hole shot past the corner and in front of the safety. But there’s no flat defender to hold the corner and the Bills adjust to the play they literally just saw, the CB sinking and picking the pass off.

Third quarter. Out of 12 personnel this time, Canada again calls it to open a drive and two plays later, he calls it again. Miller sacks Pickett the second time.

The final two examples, both checkdowns to Jaylen Warren.

Seven plays of the same call hardly dressed up any differently. Twice out of a different personnel grouping but it’s still the same overall look. Canada added a bit of motion at the end but it’s not fooling anyone. Certainly not the Bills. To put the numbers into context, Pickett threw 17 passes on 1st and 10 from his own territory to the opposing 45 yard line. 41.1% of them were this call.

One last time, here’s all seven plays together.

It’s such a bland, constrictive, and ineffective offense. A couple of these passes were complete but it was all underneath, the Bills allowing the checkdown, building their fence, and the Steelers couldn’t hit a big play. The one time they took a shot, Pickett was picked.

If you want to take it a step further, and I’ll be talking about this tomorrow, of all the Steelers’ 1st and 2nd down dropbacks, a whopping 35.1% of them (13 of 37) were either this three-man concept or the team’s sprintout. More than a third of those were just one of two playcalls.

Did some of these calls result in decent pickups? I guess. Mostly Pickett just hit the checkdown. Only one of these hit a receiver. But Canada was so quick to call these plays they resulted in heavier negative outcomes, a sack and a pick, than the little positive there was. By the second half, Buffalo was content with giving up the short throw and just tackling the catch.

This has to be the most predictable offense in the league, the easiest for defenses to scout pre and in-game. And it’s not just because a rookie like Pickett’s under center now. The same stuff was happening with Mitch Trubisky though if anything, it’s gotten worse. This doesn’t even begin to include other grouped concepts like this from Sunday’s loss, which I’m sure I could find if I charted and padded them more closely (and just watching the game through during this study, I know I could).

Good offenses don’t need to run 100 different plays. But they must at least look different to a defense. The Steelers do the same thing over and over again and think it’ll work. When the talent gap is large, in high school, in college, you can get away with that stuff. Not in the NFL and certainly not with this group of players. This is far from an elite offense.

Bored. That’s me watching this offense. Being bad is one thing. Being bad and boring is another. At least defensively, the Steelers’ coaching staff are trying a lot of different things, even if much of it doesn’t work. Pittsburgh’s offensive gameplan must change. Or this predictable offense will keep finishing with predictable results.

We’ll be back for round two tomorrow. Buckle up.

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