The Pittsburgh Steelers had just scored a touchdown and trailed the Cleveland Browns by one point. The obvious play was to kick a PAT and tie the game. But the Steelers didn’t have Chris Boswell, and Pressley Harvin III hasn’t kicked a field goal in a live game in years. So the Steelers kept Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense on the field to try a 2-point conversion.
I was excited. It was an obvious Canada play moment. In most games this season there has been a moment when the team desperately needs to gain a few yards, and for a good number of them the Steelers have pulled out a crazy play with huge motions and misdirection, plays straight out of Matt Canada’s bag of tricks.
Canada did not disappoint.
Steelers vs. Browns, 3rd quarter, 3:39
Let’s start by looking at the initial personnel package and formation.
The Steelers are in 22 personnel, with a running back, fullback, two tight ends and one receiver.
The obvious threat here is running the ball with Najee Harris, a legit threat, as Najee Harris to that point had run 12 times for 47 yards, just under 4 yards a carry, and the offensive line for the Steelers was winning the battle in the middle of the line. As Cleveland prepares for a power run play, everything changes.
Again, the first look had Najee Harris as the primary threat. Now the Steelers are showing a formation they’ve used before to throw a quick screen before, and Najee Harris behind three blockers is a big threat if they get the ball to him. The Browns counter with four defenders heading that way, but also with Myles Garrett taking a wider position at his defensive end spot.
The first thing Tony Romo on the broadcast thought, seeing this formation was the 1-vs.-1 with Chase Claypool to the right side of the offense, and Cleveland’s defense, while moving heavily to defend the threat of Najee Harris, realizes it also. Watch the free safety at the snap and immediately after.
The defense is split in two directions, first focusing on Najee Harris and his blockers to the left, and then Chase Claypool to the right. Take a look at the play as Ben Roethlisberger turns his shoulders to fake in Chase Claypool’s direction.
We’ll start with Myles Garrett, the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen. He is rushing straight upfield from a wide alignment because he is rushing that screen pass lane. The best way to stop Najee Harris here is to not let the ball get to him, and Myles Garrett is getting upfield as fast as he can to get in the path of that pass. The linebacker behind him is reading Roethlisberger, and is unaware at the moment that one of the blockers in the double team on the defensive tackle is going to be coming for him. The safety is heading toward Claypool quickly because his help will be critical if they throw a slant to Claypool.
This leaves a wide open lane for Ben Roethlisberger to run and dive into the end zone for two points and the lead.
Lastly, let’s get to the holding call. Kendrick Green is blocking the linebacker on the goal line.
You can see where his hands go from legal to wrapping around his middle, you can also see that Ben Roethlisberger has crossed the goal line when that happens. It’s a bad call.
It’s a real shame too, because it was a brilliant play design from Matt Canada, and another play right in line with how Canada operates. He shows the Browns an obvious threat in Najee Harris, then motions to reveal a second threat in Chase Claypool, then beats them with a completely different attack, in this case, Ben Roethlisberger running the ball.
We didn’t get a great game from Ben Roethlisberger, we didn’t get the throwback of the Steelers Hall of Fame QB dominating Cleveland with his arm once again. But we did get another glimpse at the creativity of Matt Canada, and one more glimpse at the reason Mike Tomlin keeps talking about quarterback mobility. We also got to see the Steelers quarterback show, once again, that despite the near-constant rumors about his ego and stubbornness, Ben Roethlisberger is willing to do whatever it takes to win, whether that is handing the ball off at a higher rate than Baker Mayfield, running a whole lot of RPO’s that he was so bad at in 2020, or even running the ball and diving for the score himself.
If the defense and the regular offense can set the Steelers up for these key short-yardage moments, Matt Canada and Ben Roethlisberger have shown consistently that they can deliver.