The Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season has not been very good, and with the bye week over any high changes to the offense for the rest of the season is extremely unlikely. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will still be calling plays on a weekly basis, and the Steelers will still be using plays from his playbook. In his weekly press conference, posted on YouTube, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about what he has liked so far from his offense eight games into the season.
“You know, I thought our misdirection passing game and our pocket movement stuff was really positive and efficient and so that’s been an asset to us,” Tomlin said.
For those who don’t know, the misdirection passing game is when the quarterback rolls out based on the design of the play. Normally when this happens a few blockers will roll out with him. The Steelers’ offense, largely unsuccessful this year, has seen its most success when running these plays. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett in particular has been effective in this type of passing game. According to Sports Information Solutions (SIS), Canada has called 18 designed rollouts for Pickett with Pickett throwing 17 passes and completing twelve of them for 81 yards. According to SIS, 14 of those passes he threw were catchable.
While these types of plays have largely been successful, the one drawback to them is that they are very short passes. In the case of Pickett, the ball has only traveled 33 yards in the air on his completions. The intended air yards on Pickett’s passed from an intended rollout are 107, but most of those came on the deep shot he took to wide receiver Chase Claypool in the New York Jets game that was intercepted. If you take that play away, his intended air yards number is significantly lower.
With the Steelers being successful using this type of play, Canada should certainly dial it up more and he should try and use it to push the ball down the field a little more often. Since the interception, they have basically never thrown it deep on those types of plays. Playing it safe is not necessarily a bad thing, but right now this offense needs chunk plays badly.
In addition, the Steelers need Pickett to throw the ball down the field more for evaluation purposes. Most of Pickett’s passes come from 10 yards or closer to the line of scrimmage. That is not a recipe for a successful quarterback in the NFL. Some may make the argument that Pittsburgh has been using the short and quick passing game as an extension of the rushing game because they haven’t been successfully running the football this season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t attack down the field more often anyway.
With Pickett being successful and pretty accurate in the designed rollout game, Canada should design more deep shots based on that. However, it does not all fall on Canada. Pickett also has to take his deep shots. There have been multiple occasions where Pickett takes a dump-off instead of trying to hit a wide receiver further down the field. If he is going to be a successful NFL quarterback and lead the Steelers to the playoffs one day, Pickett is going to need to take his shots when they are there.