The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the offseason with a lot of uncertainty on both sides of the ball. On defense the team is looking to replace long-time defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who has been with the team since 2003, but on offense they are trying to navigate their way with Matt Canada’s offense heading into Year 2.
For the vast majority of the fan base, they were not happy with the team’s decision to retain Canada for 2022. It makes sense, the team struggled in many regards compared to their NFL peers.
Here is where the Steelers’ offense ranked in the main categories this past season:
Yards per game: 315.4 (23rd)
Rushing Yards per game: 93.1 (29th)
Passing Yards per game: 222.2 (15th)
Points per game: 20.2 (21st)
Those numbers are hardly reasons to be optimistic about the future, but the Steelers, from a personnel standpoint, are undergoing some major changes. Not only will the offensive line likely look extremely different, but there will be another quarterback under center in 2022. Who that is has yet to be determined, but when team president Art Rooney II met with media last week he spoke about those changes in personnel and what it could mean for the offense moving forward.
“That’s the way it goes.” Rooney said. “There are going to be years where you’re going to have different combinations of players moving in, and so I thought the good news was that our younger guys continued to improve as the season went on, and I think that’s something that hopefully we can build on and build around as we go forward here.”
Some of those young players Rooney mentioned were directly responsible for the moderate success of the team’s running game. Players like rookie tackle Dan Moore Jr., rookie running back Najee Harris, rookie center Kendrick Green and even rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. Rooney doesn’t necessarily see the 2021 output as good, but he also sees potential within this area of the offense.
“I would say I feel better about our ability to run the football today than I did at this time last year.” Rooney commented. “We have some pieces in place, obviously Najee (Harris) and some young offensive linemen we hope are going to come in next year and take another step. But we didn’t perform the way we’d like to, so there’s definitely room for improvement. We’ll be trying to figure out how to get that improvement in this offseason.”
But it ultimately comes down to the man in charge of the offense. The man many fans were hoping would be relieved of his duties after just one season calling the plays. When it comes to Matt Canada’s offense, the giant elephant in the room is whether his system will be, or can be, successful at the NFL level. Rooney doesn’t go as far as saying he believes all is well within Canada’s system, but he did see some promising things throughout the 2021 season.
“We had a number of young players, rookies playing on offense this year.” Rooney explains as a reason the offense might have struggled at times. “Look, we didn’t achieve the kind of offense that we would like to have, but we had some good moments. They kept us in a lot of games. More than anything, we needed to be more consistent. We had a lot of games where we were good for a quarter, or for a half, but not really for four quarters. That’s something Matt is going to want to address this offseason. Having so many young players, different pieces coming together, including a new coordinator, there were some challenges there that I think we tried to make the best of it, but again, we didn’t meet all of our goals for sure.”
One question many fans are asking on the day after Championship weekend in the NFL is when the Steelers could be viewed as a viable Super Bowl contender again? When fans see teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and even the Cincinnati Bengals moving the ball with ease up and down the field, it can lead some to feel as if the Steelers are several steps behind as a collective.
“I would never sit here and say we’re going to change our goal of trying to win a Super Bowl. Every season that’s got to be the goal, as far as I’m concerned.” Rooney admitted. “We certainly have work to do with an opening at our quarterback position. You could say it’s a new chapter, so we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure we have the best person we can probably have in that position. As we all know, quarterback is a key position, so it’s going to be a transition getting there and having a new quarterback. I’m excited about the challenge, and I know Coach Tomlin and everybody else here is excited by that challenge.”
Excitement is all well and good, but the ability to execute a plan this offseason which will result in the team not just remaining relevant, but being a legitimate contender, has yet to be seen. This offseason will be unlike any other in recent memory, and one where the Steelers can either capitalize on the situation, or fall flat and find themselves looking up at the other AFC teams and wondering “what if”.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for a very interesting, and intriguing, offseason.