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The Steelers offense isn’t just frustrating; it’s boring

It’s time for Matt Canada to leave the building, or there might be some fans who leave first.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
Secretly this has all been a big joke!
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, now it’s just a farce.

After the latest hopeless, listless offensive performance, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada admitted, “This team isn’t built for comebacks.”

I’m sorry, what?

The team with the supposedly improved offensive line (who’d fleeced the Texans by getting draft picks for the worst center they’ve ever employed)? The team with two deep ball thunderbolts in George Pickens and Calvin Austin, and veteran Pro Bowler Allen Robinson in the slot? The team with the between-the-tackles bruiser who finally had a decent game, along with a bonus third-down back who was plucked off the UDFA pile last year and seems to fight for one or two big plays every week? The team with an excellent pass-catching tight end, a mountainous blocking tight end, and a Swiss army fullback? The team that converted 54% of third downs last year, and couldn’t stop scoring touchdowns in the preseason? That team isn’t built for comebacks?

My god.

Two weeks ago, I wrote up an analysis of Canada’s tenure, arguing that there had been reasons to keep him on board this year, but that those same things had started to look like reasons to dump him. If you didn’t catch it, the main arguments were that he’d forgotten all the things that worked during last year’s 7-2 closing stretch and that he was now in danger of damaging the young quarterback’s development. Both of these things remain true, but now comes Here goes:

The problem with this offense isn’t that it’s struggling, that it’s going through growing pains, that it’s taken a step back from last year’s successes, or even that it’s losing games. The problem with this offense is that it’s boring. And that’s a much bigger indictment than just saying, “I’m not entertained.”

Week 4 was more than just a loss

Before I go on, let me interject: I’m not someone who thinks bottom-line results are everything.

I believe that growth doesn’t always lead to wins, that creative play calling sometimes fails, and that sometimes, you can fight like hell, and the other team just simply beats you. But growth, creativity, and fight, even in a loss, are usually causes for hope. Because of that, a loss to Houston doesn’t break my heart. It’s frustrating, but the Texans are a dangerous team — young, loose, talented, and playing with house money. They blasted a 2022 playoff-winning Jacksonville team just last week. As much as Steelers fans hoped for a win, this wasn’t an XFL opponent. A loss to them is manageable.

However, this wasn’t a loss; This was a forfeit.

If the Steelers had blown this game 30-24, let’s say, most fans might hit the comments sections complaining about whatever went wrong (a blown coverage? an untimely interception? a lousy flag?). It would be aggravating, as all losses are, but largely, the response would likely be along the lines of, “Here are the things they need to fix, and there are the things to build on.”

But instead, I don’t see anything to build on here. All season long, the only positive offensive moments have been emergencies — miracle 70-yard touchdowns, or defensive splash plays that created the illusion that the Steelers could score points. The offense simply hasn’t shown up.

Is this familiar?

If we’re being honest, this is how it all felt at the beginning of last year too. That team looked helpless for the bulk of the first eight weeks, too. The only difference is that last year, it wasn’t completely unexpected.

In 2022, the Steelers weathered a major quarterback change, then another — first from Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger (whose 2021 season looks more and more impressive every week), to journeyman Mitch Trubisky, and then to rookie Kenny Pickett. And they did it while the defense (which was supposed to carry the team) had to line up without the league’s top player, T.J. Watt. That was a perfect storm of pressure and bad luck; some static was expected

Then, the team turned it around at the bye and ended as perhaps the most dangerous team that missed the postseason.

So what’s changed?

What’s the difference between the successes of late 2022 and the failures of early 2023?

Well, this year’s struggle doesn’t reflect a loss of talent. The two rosters are nearly identical. Diontae Johnson’s presence is probably underreported, but Austin and Robinson ought to be able to make up the difference in both explosiveness and veteran reliability. Meanwhile, the offensive line was supposed to be improved (unless you think Kevin Dotson was the keystone of that unit). So, it’s not the manpower.

Furthermore, it’s aruable that last year’s success wasn’t reducible to, “Their opponents sucked,” no matter how many fans want to claim so. For one thing, the Steelers’ final nine opponents weren’t as bad as we like to say — the Saints and Ravens (twice) were top-five defenses, and the Steelers hung up 30 in a loss to the AFC runner-up Bengals too.

Meanwhile, this year began with a rough run — the 49ers and Browns are Grade-A defenses. The Raiders are not, however, and Pittsburgh’s offense was barely competent against them. Houston may be tougher to gauge, but no one seems to think this defense is a top-five unit yet (or even a top-15), and yet their defense destroyed this offense. If success was really all about playing mediocre opponents, this team would be showing a lot more.

I’d finally add that we’re not seeing an example of simple bad luck at play either. We’ve seen that in the past — such as in the mid-2010s, when the Steelers defenses kept getting gutted by unexpected manpower losses (from Lamarr Woodley’s soft tissues and Jason Worilds’ religious mission to Ryan Shazier’s spinal trauma and Stephon Tuitt family tragedy). We often ignore the role of luck in team success, but those teams just kept getting kneecapped by it, right when the offense had become so explosive.

Those struggles were frustrating, but they were acts of god, so to speak. That’s not what’s happening this year, however. If anything, Steelers fans had spent the offseason stunned at how well the front office had assembled talent. Yet still, this offense is considerably worse than those Steelers defenses throughout the 2010s ever were.

That leaves us with one answer. It’s the scheme. It’s the fundamentals. It’s the play calling. This is an offense without an identity, without a plan, and without a prayer. It’s Matt Canada.

It’s time.

It’s time. The Steelers play Baltimore next week, and then it’s the bye week. If Matt Canada survives this stretch, then something’s gone wrong. Loyalty and steadiness have their limits; we’re now fully in the territory of the “sunken cost fallacy.” It’s time. Cut him loose, and let this team breathe. Maybe that won’t make this offense dominant, but we know they won’t get more hapless, helpless, or unwatchably boring.

It’s time.