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How have past Steelers offensive coordinators done in their second season?

Should Steelers fans expect a jump in offensive production in Matt Canada‘s second season?

Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There are many opinions on the Steelers new offensive coordinator Matt Canada after his first season in the position in Pittsburgh. While many fans feel that it’s already time to move on after one season, others are curious to see how that Canada system ends up on the field with additional players that are a better fit, namely the quarterback. Regardless of how the fan base feels, Steelers president Art Rooney II gave Matt Canada vote of confidence in being the coordinator a second season for the Steelers when he met with local media last week.

So rather than focus on moving on from Canada, perhaps it is time to look and see what the expectation should be going into season two for the offensive coordinator. In last week’s episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast from Thursday, January 27, I was asked a question about how past Steelers offensive coordinators performed in their second season.

Rather than go all the way back to the early 80s when the Steelers had their first official offensive coordinator, I set the time frame as the coordinators during the Kevin Colbert era, which began in 2000. The statistics I looked at were offensive rank, passing offensive rank, and rushing offensive rank. All of the statistics are based on yards gained throughout the season compared to the other NFL teams. I also looked at the year before a coordinator began in order to see how much of an increase or decrease there was when they took over. Additionally, I obviously looked at their second season to see how the rankings improved from the previous year.

Without further ado, here are the rankings and (hopeful) improvements for the Steelers last five offensive coordinators.

Mike Mularkey (2001-2003)

Tennessee Titans v Pittsburgh Steelers

First season: 2001
Offense rank: 3 (+15)
Passing rank: 21 (+3)
Running rank: 1 (+3)

Second season: 2002
Offense rank: 5 (-2)
Passing rank: 7 (+14)
Running rank: 9 (-8)

Departure: Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills

The Steelers saw a huge boost in offense when Mike Mularkey took over, jumping up to number three in the league. The fact that the offense fell a little bit in year two from being so high isn’t a big deal. The running game wasn’t the same, but the improvement of passing was big.

Ken Whisenhunt (2004-2006)

Miami Dolphins v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

First season: 2004
Offense rank: 16 (+6)
Passing rank: 28 (-14)
Running rank: 2 (+29)

Second season: 2005
Offense rank: 16 (+0)
Passing rank: 24 (+4)
Running rank: 5 (-3)

Departure: Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals

In his first season as offensive coordinator, Whisenhunt oversaw the emergence of the Steelers running game as rookie Ben Roethlisberger was asked to do less with the passing attack. The overall rank did not fall into his second season, it was just re-distributed slightly in how the Steelers were moving the ball.

Bruce Arians (2007-2011)

Seattle Seahawks v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

First season: 2007
Offense rank: 17 (-10)
Passing rank: 22 (-13)
Running rank: 3 (+7)

Second season: 2008
Offense rank: 22 (-5)
Passing rank: 17 (+5)
Running rank: 23 (-20)

Departure: Contract expired (offensive coordinator and interim head coach of Indianapolis Colts.

The Steelers offense took a step back when Arians took over for Whisenhunt in Mike Tomlin‘s first year as head coach. The offense statistically went back even farther the next season despite winning the Super Bowl. Arians’ rankings continue to climb up until he “retired” at the end of his contract.

Todd Haley (2012-2017)

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

First season: 2012
Offense rank: 21 (-9)
Passing rank: 14 (-4)
Running rank: 26 (-12)

Second season: 2013
Offense rank: 20 (+1)
Passing rank: 12 (+2)
Running rank: 28 (-2)

Departure: Contract expired (offensive coordinator of Cleveland Browns)

Haley saw the Steelers offensive numbers dip in his first season as offensive coordinator but turned it around with an ever-so-slight increase in year two. After his fifth season, Haley‘s offense went all the way up to third in the NFL before his contract was not renewed. In seeing how the numbers lined up well for the Steelers offense under Todd Haley, the narrative of “personality conflicts” being the issue seems to make the most sense.

Randy Fichtner

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

First season: 2018
Offense rank: 4 (-1)
Passing rank: 2 (+1)
Running rank: 31 (-11)

*Second season: 2019
Offense rank: 30 (-16)
Passing rank: 31 (-29)
Running rank: 29 (+2)

*Third season: 2020 (compared to first year)
Offense rank: 25 (-11)
Passing rank: 15 (-13)
Running rank: 32 (-1)

Departure: Contract expired

I included the third season under Randy Fichtner because I didn’t feel it was fair to look at his second season when Ben Roethlisberger was hurt halfway through the second game. If you want to use that as the basis, go ahead. I also included his third season and compared it to his first year which showed there was still a very big drop off. Honestly, I’m not really surprised that he was out of coaching in the NFL in 2021.

Matt Canada (2021-present)

Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

First season: 2021
Offense rank: 23 (+3)
Passing rank: 15 (+0)
Running rank: 29 (+3)

I find it interesting that despite how bad the offensive rankings were they all were either improved or the same as the previous season. Of all the coaches listed, Matt Canada will be the first one to head into his second season knowing it will be with a new quarterback. Will that affect the Steelers rankings in 2022? That’s question all Steelers fans will have to wait for next year.

As you can see, the Steelers have not had offensive coordinators make big leaps in their second season over the last 20 years. When the biggest overall jump from year one to year to came by improving one position, from 21st to 20 overall, it does not instill a lot of confidence. But with the Steelers being the 23rd ranked offense in Matt Canada‘s first season, the worst ranked offense of any other coaches outlined, there will be plenty of room for improvement.

For more information on the subject as well as looking at Steelers sack trios, check out the entire Steelers Stat Geek podcast: