During the 2020 NFL campaign, when Matt Canada was believed to be either the Steelers' secret offensive coordinator or their offensive coordinator in waiting, the jet sweep was all the rage.
“Give me some more of those jet sweeps,” Twitter would say with much excitement. It was often noted that Canada’s fingerprints were all over Pittsburgh’s offense even in his role as quarterbacks coach.
Those fingerprints were apparently wiped clean at some point during the 2020 campaign, as the jet sweep—usually, a play called with then-rookie receiver Chase Claypool in mind—all but disappeared by season’s end.
Fear not, Canada was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021, which meant we’d get our fair share of jet sweep action.
Unfortunately for Canada, he quickly fell out of favor with Steelers fans, as did his signature play, the jet sweep, which became his version of the quick bubble screen, aka a play-call that Bruce Arians/Todd Haley/Randy Fichtner made infamous.
You couldn’t blame Steelers fans for their disdain. For one thing, Canada was the next offensive coordinator in their crosshairs. For another thing, Canada, unlike Arians, Haley and Fichtner (to a lesser extent), barely produced enough offense to keep the Steelers in games, let alone win them. For a third thing, the jet sweep rarely produced big plays.
But that all has changed in 2022. And when I say “that all has changed,” I don’t mean the disdain for Canada—oh, he’s still in those crosshairs—I’m talking about the effectiveness of the jet sweep.
It’s a play that has produced more than a few substantial gains in 2022—for Steelers' purpose, let’s call those gains 20 yards (give or take).
Receiver Steven Sims has usually been the one who has produced those 20-yard (more or less) gains on jet sweeps, but what about other people?
How about Connor Heyward? I’m sure you never thought you’d see a time when he’d be utilized on a jet sweep, especially with a chance to clinch a victory.
That brings me to Saturday evening when the Steelers were trying to put the finishing touches on a 13-10 victory over the Raiders at Acrisure Stadium.
Cam Sutton had just seemingly put an end to the competitive phase of the game with an impressive interception of quarterback Derek Carr with 29 seconds left.
The Raiders had timeouts left, however, and the Steelers still needed to pick up a first down to ensure the visitors from Las Vegas wouldn’t get one last chance to try a Hail Mary (or Lateral).
Pittsburgh faced a second and 10, and you could just sense a Najee Harris rush into the middle of the line that would gain maybe a yard or three to set up a third and long.
I must say, Canada stepped up at that moment and called the perfect play that nobody saw coming: A jet sweep to the rookie Heyward, a tight end that Rich Eisen, the play-by-play man for the NFL Network, mistook as Zach Gentry, the human vending machine. It would have been perfectly acceptable to crucify Canada had Gentry been the recipient of this jet sweep and didn't pick up the necessary yardage (he wouldn’t have).
Let’s face it, Canada would have been crucified had Heyward not picked up 21 yards (or at least a first down) and secured the victory.
But Heyward did pick up the necessary yards, and he did it with ease.
Canada may not get many flowers from Steelers fans, but they need to throw him a rose or two for a deceptively brilliant call that put the Raiders on ice at the end of last Saturday’s Week 16 matchup at Acrisure Stadium.
Take a bow, Matt Canada.