“There’s not enough footballs to go around.”
This saying, or something similar, has been used when talking about the game of football and the myriad of offensive players who want the football. Outside of the quarterback position, there is no way of guaranteeing anyone the football on most plays.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, a lot has been made about George Pickens being visibly upset on the sideline as he ended the game with only one catch for two yards.
Mike Tomlin called it a non-story in his Tuesday press conference, but that didn’t stop the media from running with the narrative throughout the week. Regardless of story lines or narratives, the Steelers offense, which has been improving since the bye week, is now faced with a good problem to have.
Keeping everyone happy.
There was a time when the Steelers offense was just trying gain enough yardage for a new set of downs, and it has gotten to the point where both coordinator and quarterback are given the task of keeping everyone happy.
During his Thursday media availability, Matt Canada was asked about Pickens, and what he thought of the receiver wanting the football,
“George and I have got a great relationship.” Canada said. “We laugh a lot about a lot of things, and I won’t share it with you all. But George wants the ball and I want George to have the ball. So does everybody else. Sometimes the ball doesn’t find you. He will continue to learn and grow on how to talk about that and do those things. But the fact that George wants the ball, there’s nothing wrong with that. We just have to express it in the right way and work at it. We’ll all keep working to do that, because he’s a really, really good player. I have no issue with him wanting the ball.”
A reasonable answer from a coordinator who doesn’t want anyone to think/feel there is somehow a problem within the coaching staff or locker room. The natural follow-up question to the above answer is how do the Steelers plan to get Pickens the ball more?
“That’s a great question.” Canada responded. “I think if we’re playing how we want to play, every week that may happen. I’m not sure everybody’s going to get the ball as much as they want every week. We’ve got Pat [Freiermuth], we’ve got Tae [Diontae Johnson], we’ve got George, and we’ve got some other guys in there, [Zach] Gentry, Steve [Sims], Gunner [Olszweski], [Miles] Boykin. We’ve got some guys who all probably want to catch some passes and plus the backside of the backfield plus we want to run the ball. I mean, I know it probably looks really, really easy, but to do that all the time and get everybody the ball and have a running game and all those things, it’s all dictated by the game. Some games it’s different than others and obviously, I think it’s also very easy to play quarterback with a clicker and say, “What about this, and what about this?” There’s a reason there’s only 32 guys starting in the National Football League this weekend.
“I don’t have a great answer. Obviously, getting him involved. We have plays to do that. We had a couple of them last week, they just didn’t fall the way we wanted them to get him going. I’m not minimizing that we need to get him touches. I don’t think anybody is, but sometimes those things occur. It happened to him this week, it’s happened to other guys in other weeks. It’s just football when you have that many weapons, and if we continue to evolve and slowly grow as we’re hoping we will, that may happen at times, because they may decide to take a guy away or lean a safety a certain way or give us an opportunity to run the ball more. All those things are part of it.”
While it may sound simplified beyond belief, is the answer to just just run more deep routes with Pickens? To give him those 50-50 balls which he has had a knack for bringing down throughout his rookie season?
“Yeah, I think that’s fair. And then sometimes when he doesn’t, finding ways to get him those balls, I think that’s probably a work in progress all the way around. He obviously is a deep threat, but he can do other things, too. So that’s part of it.”
While Canada has to draw up the plays, Kenny Pickett has the most difficult job. If a play is designed to go a specific way, Pickett’s pre-snap read, the offensive line holding up and his decision making ultimately result in players being satisfied with the looks they do, or don’t, get on any particular game day. When it comes to getting people the ball, Pickett knows his receivers all want the same thing — to win.
“They’re competitors, man.” Pickett told media Wednesday. “Everyone wants the ball; everyone wants to win. Like I said after the game, you never know who’s going to have that big game. Sometimes it may not be you one week, it may be another guy, and it kind of bounces around like that. That’s just kind of how it is depending on how the defense is and where they’re dictating me to go with the football. So, we’ll continue to push forward and get our playmakers the football.”
Keeping everyone happy isn’t easy for an NFL offense, but it’s a lot easier to stomach if the team is succeeding. Will the offense have a knee-jerk reaction to Pickens’ desire for the football and give him an unusually high amount of targets vs. the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14? That will be a factor in the game this Sunday, but it’s likely no matter what happens, someone won’t be happy.
There are times you don’t envy those in charge of spreading the ball around...