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Steelers Offense in Focus: Matt Canada and the Steelers early season run game

Matt Canada brought the jet sweep to Pittsburgh, and the early results were good.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger, when he was asked in the 2020 offseason about Matt Canada’s impact on the offense, stated that Canada was working with the run game. Early in the season that impact was visible, mostly through the use of jet sweeps.

Week 1, first quarter, 7:00. Chase Claypool is the receiver barely visible on the left side of the screen to start.

There’s a lot to this play, we’ll start with Chase Claypool. Watch the defense react to Claypool’s jet motion. The middle linebacker takes a step, but a small one, the cornerback to the right moves outside, and the safety backs up and to the right. They are more concerned with rebalancing the defense to the formation than the threat of a jet sweep here. The big reaction is from the outside linebacker to the right side of the offense, he is delayed in reacting to the run by the jet motion.

In the actual run, the Steelers win the line of scrimmage, but no one gets to the middle linebacker, and the run is dead. We’ve talked about how important the interior line is to Canada’s offense, and it shows up here with Stefan Wisniewski (#61) not getting off his double team with Maurkice Pouncey to block the linebacker.

The Giants weren’t focusing on jet sweeps as a threat, and it would pay off for the Steelers at the end of the game with the first of many jet sweeps of the 2020 season.

Week 1, fourth quarter, 0:55. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the right side of the screen.

The key here is how the defense reacts to the play. The Giants try to defend this sweep with the cornerback that was manned up on Claypool, you can see him chasing the play across the field. The majority of the defense is looking at the running back, Benny Snell, who already had over 100 yards in the game. It gave the Steelers the advantage going outside.

When teams adjusted to the jet sweep, it slowed down the linebackers, as they waited to read the play. That created advantages in the run game that helped the Steelers put up over 100 yards rushing in the first five games of the season.

Week 2, second quarter, 4:11. Chase Claypool is the player in motion to start the play.

Look at the linebackers on this play, both inside linebackers and the nickel back (#34) are watching to see who ends up with the ball, and that slows down their reaction to the run. Watch Maurkice Pouncey (#53). His path to the middle linebacker (#47) is easy because the linebacker is delayed in reacting to the play. Even with Matt Feiler losing his block, leading to the tackle, the Steelers gain 5 yards on this play because the linebackers aren’t involved.

Eventually the jet sweep would be “solved” by defenses and when that happened, the Steelers run game fell apart. Look at all these runs, and see the safeties stay put or even back up with the sweep. When teams figured out the Steelers weren’t dangerous passing when they used jet motion, those safeties started charging the line when the motion started. But before teams started abandoning pass defense when they saw that jet motion, it helped make the Steelers a top 10 rushing team.

The question for the 2021 offense is can they produce the kind of threat passing the ball with jet motion that will force the defense to respect that threat instead of jumping the jet sweep with their safeties. We will look at that in the next part of this series.