The Pittsburgh Steelers may have only won three games during the 2022 regular season, but there is one common, and obvious, stat which is consistent with every win on the docket.
That’s right, in the Week 1 contest vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, the Week 6 game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Week 10 game vs. the New Orleans Saints the Steelers protected the football.
For offensive coordinator Matt Canada, he understands this stat and how it impacts the outcome of the games.
“No coincidence.” Canada said when he met with media Thursday. “Obviously, ball security is always big. We know that. So, continuing to do that in both fumbles and picks. But, for sure, I think that’s true.”
While rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett wasn’t the start in Week 1, the zero in the turnover category was glaring in Week 10. Canada sees this as a huge step in the right direction for the young signal caller.
“Obviously, we didn’t have any picks, so yeah, he was better.” Canada said. “We all talk about his growth, continuing to grow, continuing to be comfortable and continuing to make those, as Coach [Mike Tomlin] always says, plays in the weighty moments. He made some. I know he wanted to make some more, but a good start and good improvement.”
When the field gets short, in the red-zone, has been when the offense has struggled. Pickett talked openly about how the NFL game isn’t just faster, but the windows are smaller compared to his time in college. Nonetheless, improving the offense in the red-zone, and this also includes protecting the football, is paramount for Canada and his offense.
“The game’s fast. It’s the National Football League. You’ve got to get it out of your hand quicker. You’ve got to see it quicker.” Canada said of Pickett in the red-zone. “I think we had some opportunities. I think we’ve had opportunities. I think we played better last week, but he’s got to continue to make those throws that end up being touchdowns and not field goals. We’ve just got to continue to get better down there, all of us. But certainly, I know Kenny, to your question here, has some throws he’d like to have back.”
The Steelers fans have been wanting the team to take more shots downfield. These are higher risk plays at times, and also requires the offensive line to hold up in their protection schemes to allow Pickett to deliver the ball downfield.
Canada wants those shots to continue, considering he sees it as an area which needs to improve.
“I think we took some shots last week, and until we hit them all, we’re always striving for perfection with that. We just have to continue to find ways to win football games, and through that process, Kenny will continue, and his experience will grow and grow and grow.
“All that matters is winning and we found a way to do that last week. It could have been better, we could have had more, but we all have to just keep growing. I think those plays, those missed opportunities that he references, are there, but they’re there all around with all the guys. But certainly, at that point, he’s the position that’s most focal on the offense.”
When it comes to decision making, many have wondered if Pickett, as a rookie, has the freedom to be able to change the play at the line of scrimmage. To audible out of a call, into a check-with-me situation.
Canada said Pickett does have checks, but getting him acclimated to life as an NFL starting quarterback is a process.
“I think that question has come up. Audibles and checks, we obviously have had checks in our offense forever. There are times he goes up there and he has to check, run-to-run, pass-to-pass, based on look, based on technique, based on coverage. There’re protection things he has to do.
“He is a rookie, but it’s the NFL.” Canada said. “Certainly, we’re going to try to streamline everything we can for all of our players to get them to play fast and simplify things the best way we can until we can continue to grow and be more diverse, more creative. But that’s not just Kenny. Again, we talked about being on the same page. There’re certain things he has to do, obviously, as he evolves and sees things, but Kenny sees the field very, very well. We just have to kind of continue to grow and get the right thing at the right time.”
It is clear where the focus is for Matt Canada and the offense moving forward, and a lot of it hinges on the starting quarterback. Getting Pickett acclimated, while not throwing too much at him, so he can play at a high level is both the challenge and the goal.
Pickett protecting the football is Step No. 1, with red-zone improvement next on the docket. As long as there’s no regression, it seems Pickett’s arrow is pointing up.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11 at Acrisure Stadium.