As many members of the BTSC community of a certain age can attest, there was a TV series in the 80's called the A-Team. The show was about a falsely accused Army Special Forces unit on the run who did good deeds as they searched for a way to prove their innocence. The leader of the unit was John 'Hannibal' Smith, who loved to light up a stogie and utter his signature phrase after every successful mission; "I love it when a plan comes together."
Plans are important, but every plan needs a certain amount of flexibility to maximize their effectiveness. Because nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, hence the common refrain "the best laid plans of mice and men". Another personal favorite is that if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans. The most successful individuals in life formula plans, but they also have the creativity and flexibility to roll with the punches and to expect the unexpected.
The best way to get a group of individuals to buy into what you are selling is by proving that you know what you are talking about and that your plan can be successful. This will be new Steelers Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada's first opportunity to prove his schemes and concepts can be productive at the NFL level. He has proven innovative and creative at the collegiate level, but previous success means little as he will be forced to prove himself at the highest level.
Matt Canada is facing a rather tall task; with multiple new faces in new places and the toughest schedule in the league going in, but there is some good news on the horizon. This is the most talented group of players that Canada has ever had at his disposal, and all early reactions to his offensive philosophy have been positive. There really seems to be more than a little excitement in the air about the plausible impact of his principles. One undeniable truth is how the Steelers need some early season offensive success to make sure everyone buys in and are on the same page, especially in light of the aforementioned schedule difficulties.
Hopefully Canada's pre-snap formations and motions will create excitement within the ranks about the possibilities of sustained success as a offense. Excitement can create a spark. A spark capable of becoming the ember necessary to start an inferno. Last season's lack of creativity was like a wet blanket on a smoldering campfire. Even worse, the offense was so predictable based on formation and personnel groupings that opponents were shouting out the play before the Steelers snapped the ball.
The Steelers offense became as easy to defend as a boxer with a dominant side. Hard to be effective when you only have a single punch capable of inflicting damage. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers won 12 games on their way to winning the AFC North crown, a division that put three teams in the playoffs. How many teams have ever accomplished that feat with the worst running game in the NFL? I have to believe it will be few and far between.
There are a few reports that I am hoping to hear emerging from the early portion of training camp. I want to hear how Najee Harris is impressing the veterans and coaching staff with his athleticism and versatility. That he appears comfortable being moved around the formation, and continues to show the explosive tendencies he displayed in college at Alabama. The Steelers need Canada to make Harris and his well rounded versatility a focal point of the offense, making the Steelers anything but predictable.
For the Steelers to be able to maximize Harris' impact, the Steelers revamped offensive line has to improve drastically, especially their run blocking. That's why I want to hear about plenty of skirmishes coming out of camp between the offensive and defensive players. Maybe a dustup between Zach Banner and TJ Watt, or some heated jawing between Tyson Alualu and ultracompetitive rookie Kendrick Green. I would even be happy hearing about plenty of physical collisions between Pat Freiermuth and Robert Spillane.
The best offensive lines believe in and fight for each other. They take pride in their performance as a collective unit and will never allow anyone to refer to their unit as being soft. I fully expected that the Steelers line would respond in a big way to reassert themselves by setting the physical edge the game following being labelled soft, but the moniker proved to be accurate. They proved physically incapable of doing anything about it. That was the beginning of the end for the season, the final nail in the coffin if you will. Part of respect is fear, and nobody feared the Steelers running game.
The Steelers realized their own weaknesses and formulated a plan to do something about them. Najee Harris is a powerful running back capable of running through, hurdling over, or stiff arming a defender into oblivion. All reports coming out of Penn State talked about Pat Freiermuth's intensity and love for competition. Kendrick Green has a mean streak made evident by his physicality until the whistle blows, and maybe a little beyond. Throw in road grader extraordinaire Kevin Dotson and gargantuan Zach Banner, and the Steelers should finally have the strength and physicality to move some bodies in the running game.
It's a big if, but if the Steelers can get all the moving parts and puzzle pieces to fall into place early in the season, then the Steelers offense should be explosive and anything but predictable. The Steelers schedule makes the need for early season success paramount due to a particularly daunting closing stretch. At the moment, the secret of Matt Canada's success is just that. Hopefully training camp will provide some answers.