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Two plays that tell a lot about Matt Canada’s passing game

The good, the bad, the potential, and the downright scary.

Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

I’ve covered Matt Canada’s offense from when he was in college and through a couple of film rooms this season, but mostly that was focused on the run game, and how his offense plays off of a successful run game.

With the Steelers run game struggling recently, that part of Matt Canada’s offense hasn’t been on display much. That includes the Bengals game where the Steelers fell behind quickly and resorted to throwing the ball for most of the game.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 9:24.

Diontae Johnson is the receiver to the top of the screen.

I love this play. The play-action, Pat Freiermuth coming from his H-Back position to the top of the screen to be a receiver in the flat, Chase Claypool’s deep route to force the deep coverage back, and Diontae Johnson coming across the field to make the catch.

The routes end up forming a triangle between Freiermuth, Johnson and Zach Gentry who is blocking to start the play. That triangle is complimented by the deep route from Claypool to overload that side of the defense, as you can see here.

Ben Roethlisberger hits Diontae Johnson on this route as the linebacker’s drop was delayed by the play action and running with his back to the ball he’s only covering the width of his own shoulders. But that route isn’t the only thing going on here.

Zach Gentry is blocking the edge who is responsible for Pat Freiermuth in the flat. Notice what Gentry does when that edge defender comes off his block to head towards Freiermuth. Gentry just turns around and he’s wide open for a short dump off if other options aren’t there.

I also like Najee Harris and the entire offensive line to the opposite side of the field. There’s potential there for a dump off screen should the play get really crazy. You can also see how much more dangerous this play would be with a running threat at quarterback. These kinds of plays show Matt Canada running smart concepts with wrinkles to them that add threat where there usually isn’t any. This is a prime example of why I have hope for the Steelers offense without Ben Roethlisberger, because plays like these are going to be great for a young, mobile quarterback.

But that wasn’t the most important play of the Steelers first drive of the game.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 8:10.

Chase Claypool is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

When I first saw this throw on the broadcast angle, I was hoping for a replay angle that would show the safety, but never got one. When the all-22 film came out this was the first play I went to see.

Ignore everything but Chase Claypool, the corner covering him and the deep safety.

The ball has just been thrown. imagine that ball hitting Chase Claypool in stride right around the 40 yard line. Look at the clip, the safety would have been way too late, Claypool has a big catch with a chance to score.

That was my initial takeaway looking at this play. I posted it in our slack channel for BTSC fuming that the Steelers sabotaged themselves this badly on their first drive. Kevin Smith responded to my fuming with a dose of reality. Claypool is running a wheel route on this play, his job is to get outside the corner, not cut upfield inside the defender. If he can’t get outside the corner, Claypool should run a back shoulder throw, like Ben Roethlisberger threw.

Once that lesson on not watching film while upset settled in it was pretty clear he was right. And while that may shift the knee-jerk reaction blame from the QB to the WR, I think that misses the bigger picture here.

Look at the entire pass play design. Look at what each player is doing. All three other receivers are running hooks to the middle of the field. Najee Harris is out in the flat, and if Claypool runs this route right, he’s running outside in a more shallow route.

The Steelers are running 5 short routes that are simply spread out horizontally against a single deep safety. There are 4 pass rushers and 6 defenders covering shallow routes. The defense has the numbers, the only throw here is the one Roethlisberger chose, a 1v1 on a wheel route that isn’t going to be open whether Claypool runs it correctly or not.

This whole play is set up for a convoluted contested catch on the sideline. This play would make some sense if the Steelers were facing a lot of cover-3 and quarters from the Bengals, you attack underneath and let the 3-4 deep defenders stand around and be useless while overtaxing the underneath defenders. The problem is no one runs cover-3 or quarters against the Steelers, they run as much cover-1 as they can, and some cover-2.

I sympathize with Chase Claypool’s “screw it, I’m going deep” action here, looking at this play it feels less like a dumb mistake and more like a rebellion against a play design that sucked. If Ben Roethlisberger and Claypool had been on the same page they could have made a big play, then celebrated with some punch-dancing in a Breakfast Club-esque celebration of their rebellion against stupidity.

Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but seriously, look at that play and think about the fact that Claypool’s correct move was to run into the contact, fight to get outside for a back shoulder catch when there was no deep help and the corner was in no position to stop him from cutting upfield.

I wrote an article early on this season on Ben Roethlisberger no longer throwing inside to receivers when the DBs have outside leverage. It shows up a lot, and you have to wonder how much is Ben Roethlisberger, and how much is Matt Canada’s scheme.

It is hard for me to accept that the same offensive coordinator drew up and called both of those plays. One is smart, creative and effective, the other. . . is not.