Remember when we were all excited about Matt Canada’s impact on the offense? Fichtner’s offense was SO predictable, and Canada’s college concepts were going to confuse the heck out of defenses and consistently put us in favorable matchups to exploit for big plays.
It just goes to show, be careful what you wish for. Even when Canada’s influence proved less than dynamic, it was blamed first on Fichtner’s inability to work with Canada’s concepts, then on Ben Roethlisberger. Now, there may be more Steelers fans in Canada named Matt than there are Steelers fans that actually like Matt Canada. The team’s failure to replace him this off season drew nearly universal rage, so let’s replace Canada, hypothetically… with ourselves.
What packages or plays would you like to implement more if you were the Steelers offensive coordinator in 2023? Here are some of my suggestions.
RB seam routes
A lot of attention has been given to the tight ends this year, and historically, these are the guys who are usually associated with seam routes. However, the Steelers have the opportunity to get a little more innovative with the personnel they have. Harris and Warren both have good hands and McFarland has showed signs of dominance in his ability to use his speed as a receiver during training camp so far this year. It takes running backs a little longer to get down the seam because they have to start in the backfield, but that delay also makes it hard for the defense to get a quick read on what’s going on, and a guy with speed like McFarland can still make it happen.
Calvin Austin: An elite short-yardage RB
Much like I can’t grasp why hockey teams don’t recruit sumo wrestlers as goalies, I have no idea why NFL teams don’t leverage their speedy receivers inside the five.
Everyone always uses big, heavy running backs to smash their way forward on the goal line and short yardage situations. Teams with mobile quarterbacks will at least recognize the potential to bootleg into the end zone, but you can take it a step farther... or in this case, faster.
Forget Calvin Austin’s 4.32 forty, this isn’t a distance race, Austin ran a 1.44 in the first 10 yards. Antonio Brown, for comparison, ran a 1.56, which is about what you’ll also see from speed freak inside linebackers like Devin White and Fred Warner as well — over a tenth of a second slower than Austin. Don’t even ask what guys like Elandon Roberts run. What this means is nobody is beating Austin to the pylon.
Whether it’s a jet sweep or a pitch to Austin lined up in the backfield, or a kind of RB fade route, defenses simply can’t matchup with speed to the edge like that. Over 99% of the field, stringing a guy out wide and shoving him out of bounds for a gain of a yard is a win for the defense, so nobody really thinks about the fact that on the goal line or in short yardage situations that’s actually a win for the offense — and the inability to stop an offense from doing that is a problem.
Furthermore, if you put TE/FB Connor Heyward in the backfield along with Austin, now the defense has two problems. You have to respect the run up the middle with Heyward, but you also have to respect Austin to the outside. Of course, it doesn’t help your defense either that both Heyward and Austin can go in motion, and all of a sudden, it’s an empty backfield.
Super Jumbo 22 Personnel
It’s no secret the Steelers have been stocking up on big guys to power the running game, but the interesting thing about it is that most of these guys actually can contribute in the passing game as well. Najee Harris looks and runs like a power back, but as we saw with the game-winning touchdown against the Ravens, he can be dangerous as a receiver as well. Heyward and Freiermuth both obviously have hands and route running ability, and Darnell Washington is no Zach Gentry.
Put all those guys on the field and you can go from a short yardage run formation to an empty backfield spread formation. In other words, with the same personnel you can choose to either stretch a defense horizontally or hammer them up the middle. The Steelers are built not just to play physically but also to create lots of matchup problems that will allow them to attack other teams where they are weakest.
It also should be noted that there is still room in this personnel group for one wide receiver. You can make it George Pickens, who also offers great blocking as well as a downfield threat, or you could make it Calvin Austin, or maybe Diontae Johnson to add a jet sweep threat (and in Austin’s case, a serious deep threat potentially as well).
Employ Kendrick Green as both center and fullback on the same play. Okay, maybe that wouldn’t work. Or could it? Line up with Jones, Seumalo, Green at center, Cole, Daniels at RT, and Chuks at TE. Green goes into motion and lines up at FB... yeah.
Remember what I said about being careful what you wish for? Maybe it’s best that I’m not the offensive coordinator, even if it means leaving the job to Matt Canada.
What new plays, concepts, or packages would you look to use more this year if you were the OC? Join our Behind The Steel Curtain community and let us know in the comments!