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Could the Steelers realistically change both coordinators this offseason?

Almost nothing has been working in either Matt Canada’s offense or Teryl Austin’s defense.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Entering their Week Five clash with the Bills, the Steelers were heavy underdogs — in fact, the team’s +14 odds were the franchise’s largest ever point spread. It’s no exaggeration to say that Buffalo was expected to dominate, but it did just that and a whole lot more in its 38-3 victory over Pittsburgh.

Some figured that the road team would experience a surge in momentum with Kenny Pickett under center and, fueled by feeling significantly overlooked, that the young David could actually unseat the mighty Goliath. It turns out that the opposite was in fact true.

Through the team’s first six games this year, it’s crystal clear that the Steelers are a bad squad, in part due to a roster missing talent and depth, injuries and coaching that doesn’t transcend. The last point is especially salient when watching a squad like the Bills, who possess superstars under Sean McDermott in OC Ken Dorsey and DC Leslie Frazier — both of whom should be head coaches in the very near future.

Every week, Buffalo’s injury list has looked like a pharmacy receipt; this past Sunday, the Bills were without Jordan Poyer, Dawson Knox, Tremaine Edmunds, Christian Benford, Jamison Crowder and Isaiah McKenzie. The team still has not suited up with Tre’Davious White, one of the premier cornerbacks in the league, this season. And yet, McDermott and his staff have routinely contained top-tier receivers with ease and played at as efficient and dominant of a level as we’ve grown to expect.

Buffalo’s response to a lack of health serves as a clarion call to how lackluster both of Pittsburgh’s coordinators truly are.

Let’s begin on the offensive side, which has been recognized as being much maligned since, quite frankly, 2018. It was expected that Matt Canada would be able to exhibit the full repertoire and all the bells and whistles of his playbook, including motion, RPOs and play action, with more mobile quarterbacks and an improved offensive line. Instead, Pittsburgh ranks just 24th in offensive DVOA through five games, up one spot from its slot in 2021; the Steelers are also 28th in yards per game and 30th in scoring.

Maybe the most concerning element: the Steelers do not lack playmakers on offense. Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Chase Claypool, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth was, and is, widely believed to be viewed as a promising nucleus of talented youngsters. Sure, some struggles (e.g., Johnson’s drop issues, Claypool’s deep ball ability, Harris’ health) are incumbent upon the players, but Canada has done nothing to elevate such skill or construct a gameplan that plays to strengths.

For example, Chase Claypool has just seven carries on the year; why not give him the ball more on sweeps? Why did it take until Kenny Pickett being inserted into the lineup for Pickens to receive targets reflective of his absurd skillset? For only so many of these questions can blame be attributed to the players themselves.

Mike Tomlin’s defense is, arguably, even more glaringly underperforming so far in 2022. Despite being the most expensive D in the NFL, Pittsburgh is a pedestrian 16th in DVOA and is 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game.

Granted, the Week One injury to T.J. Watt was largely impossible to overcome because of a fundamental lack of edge-rushing depth and Pittsburgh’s front seven-oriented attack. At the same time, the Steelers still have other foundational stars on that side of the ball in Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick, plus solid role players in Larry Ogunjobi, Alex Highsmith, Myles Jack and Terrell Edmunds. What gives?

In his first year assuming the reins of the defensive coordinator job, Teryl Austin has not shown much proclivity to adjust. Week in and week out, quarterbacks wreak havoc over the middle of the field, dicing up Pittsburgh’s primarily zone-based scheme. Despite such calls, a recurring theme of the season is Steelers defenders not communicating well in space and not passing off receivers, both of which are cardinal sins for the structure of Austin’s system.

Likewise, opposing coordinators understand that the Steelers’ linebackers will bite on play action almost every play and continue to exploit that with digs, slants and crossers in behind. Yet, through five contests, Austin has not shifted his strategy whatsoever.

Like Canada, not all of the fault lies on Austin’s shoulders. Pittsburgh’s secondary entered 2022 rather thin (and questionable), and injuries to Ahkello Witherspoon and others only exacerbated that. Further, Heyward and Fitzpatrick have seen their quality of play decline as they battle wounds themselves.

At the same time, both Austin and newcomer Brian Flores have not mitigated these struggles, going out of their way to mask issues with solutions as Frazier has. This defense fundamentally does not look disciplined in the way that the Bills under Frazier, or the 49ers under DeMeco Ryans, do — and that’s an indictment of coaching.

There is substantial pressure on GM Omar Khan to oust Canada, whether immediately or in January. On a somewhat positive note, it does feel likely that the OC’s time in the Steel City is nearing a (rather merciful) end, especially if porous offensive play is maintained. Whether Austin is retained after just one year leading the defense is a much grander and more intricate question.

Without a doubt, the Steelers need to upgrade their roster this offseason, particularly along the trenches. However, it’s not as if Pittsburgh plays with merely unsung heroes lining up on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

At the end of the day, both Canada and Austin need to maximize their talent and make changes, much less get up to speed with trends within the modern NFL. If neither can accomplish those elements in the next 12 games, there’s a legitimate case that Tomlin’s assistants need to be revamped, no matter their duration in office.