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Going all-in on Matt Canada and his system is a slippery slope for the Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a tough decision to make with their offensive coordinator this offseason.

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

I am no football expert. Never claimed to be, and never will.

I felt it necessary to get that bit of information out of the way before continuing down this journey we are about to embark on throughout this article.

With that made known, it is time we talk about Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The former collegiate offensive play caller turned Steelers quarterbacks coach in 2020 is now the man in charge of getting the Pittsburgh offense prepared on a week-in and week-out basis. By most accounts, by people who have forgotten more about the X’s and O’s of football than I’ll ever know, attest how Canada’s system is unique.

The challenge entering the 2021 season was whether Ben Roethlisberger will be able to adapt his aging game into Canada’s system. Canada’s system typically requires a quarterback who is more of a dual threat, and has the experience working the run-pass option (RPO) plays which have become synonymous with college football. For years, fans of the black and gold wanted a fresh set of eyes. A play caller from the outside. Someone who could bring some of these new concepts to the Steelers.

Well, last I checked Matt Canada would fit most of the above criteria; however, after a season of Canada calling the plays many are singing a different tune.

I have to admit, I too am on the fence about the future of Canada in Pittsburgh, but it might be for different reasons than most. As you look at the Steelers’ offensive depth chart, you see glaring deficiencies. You see gaping holes which will need to be filled for this team to return to their typical competitive state. Entering an offseason where the organization has more salary cap space than they have had in years, the future hangs in the balance.

But let’s get back to Canada’s system. Canada’s system has changed wherever he went while in the college ranks. He helped orchestrate run-heavy systems, along with showing the ability to spread out the defense and methodically move the ball down the field. But Canada has a type of player he wants to help him achieve his ultimate goal of scoring points.

If this is truly Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, as it is being rumored and many expect, the type of player Canada would want to acquire wouldn’t just be offensive lineman and a receiver or two, you are talking about the most important position in the game of football — quarterback.

Whether the Steelers’ next quarterback is currently on the roster isn’t the talking point here, what’s important is the organization realizing the crossroads they find themselves facing. And this crossroads is all based on the individual they deploy to run their offense in 2022, and beyond.

There are players who are good enough they can play in any system. From offensive lineman to quarterbacks, the talent these players have can be manipulated and cultivated to maximize their potential. However, there are other players who excel in one specific system. Maybe it’s a quarterback who excels in the spread offense, or a receiver who is used almost solely as a deep threat. Asking these players to completely change what they do equates in struggles and unknown results.

With that said, let’s assume the Steelers decide to keep Canada for 2022. If the Steelers end up drafting around the middle of the pack in the 2022 NFL Draft, the number of players who are universally talented, regardless of system, would be much smaller. Instead, you would be drafting players who would be deemed good “fits” for Canada’s system.

If the assumption is the retention of Canada, and the team acquires players in both free agency and the draft who simply fit what Canada wants to do, they are potentially painting themselves into a corner. After doing so, what if the Canada experiment doesn’t succeed and the Steelers decide to part ways and bring in a new offensive coordinator? Whoever the next coordinator is would be saddled with players they would never want/acquire. It would require another rebuild of the offense and take even more time for the Steelers’ offense to return to any sense of dominance.

This is where the crossroads lies with the organization. If the team has even the slightest hesitation with Canada being the play caller moving forward, they should cut ties with him before they go too far in finding players who fit Canada’s system. If Kendrick Green was a player Canada would target, and I’m not saying this is truth, could you imagine if the Steelers devoted an entire offseason, both free agency and the draft, into bringing in players like this?

To be fair to Canada, this isn’t solely about him and his system. This is the same conversation NFL teams have any time they feel as if a coordinator isn’t living up to their potential with their duties. It is now, with two games remaining in the regular season, the Steelers need to seriously think if they want to go down this road. If they do, especially if it means bringing in a quarterback in some fashion, it could be a slippery slope. Could it also pay off? Absolutely it could, but there is risk involved with every decision.

As for me, I’d pass on another year of Canada. Not that I don’t think Canada’s system can work in the NFL, but the fact I feel the Steelers would be better suited with another coordinator taking over at this critical moment with Ben Roethlisberger’s inevitable retirement.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 on Monday Night Football.