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If you think the Steelers’ offensive play calling looked wildly different in Week 3, that’s because it was

WARNING: Conspiracy theory alert. Proceed with caution.

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Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Steelers huddles with teammates during the preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Acrisure Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Much to the joy of Pittsburgh Steelers fans, the offense finally showed some signs of life in Week 3’s Sunday Night Football showdown against the Raiders. After chants of “Fire [Matt] Canada!” echoed throughout Acrisure Stadium (well, as much as an open-air stadium can force an echo), fans demanded change.

And change, they got.

In Weeks 1 and 2, the offense posted 239 and 255 total net yards, respectively — both ranking bottom five in net yardage output for a single game dating back to 2021, when Matt Canada was promoted to offensive coordinator.

Watching the game, it was clear that there was a different vibe to the offense, top to bottom. The change wasn’t just in how second-year QB Kenny Pickett executed the plays, however. A big part of that was the type of plays that were being called.

Steelers play calling (2023)

Play type Weeks 1-2 Week 3
Play type Weeks 1-2 Week 3
Run 26.50% 48.40%
Pass 73.50% 51.60%
RPO 2.60% 17.70%
Play action 9.30% 25%
Boot 3.50% 12.50%
Motion 51.30% 46.80%

Analyzing the Steelers’ playcalling data courtesy of PFF, you’ll note a significant uptick in run-pass options (RPO), play-action passes, and bootlegs in Week 3, compared to the previous two weeks. Dating back to 2022 (Canada’s first time calling for a quarterback other than Ben Roethlisberger), the Steelers called RPOs on 9.4% of plays, play action on 16.6% of plays, and bootlegs on 5.8% of plays.

It wasn’t just the play calling that was different, either. The team also introduced two new offensive personnel groupings. After strictly deploying 11, 12 and 13-man personnel groupings in Weeks 1 and 2, there were a couple of more wrinkles installed in this week’s game plan. The Steelers deployed 02 personnel (0 RBs, 2 TEs, 3 WRs) and 23 personnel (2 RBs, 3 TEs, 0 WRs) both for the first time this season, combining for three of the 62 offensive plays on the week.

It’s not the first time we’ve ever seen these personnel groupings under Canada, but it is worth pointing out how rarely we’ve seen them. In the 48 games Canada has coached as the offensive coordinator, we’ve seen 02 personnel deployed in just 11 total instances prior to Week 3 of the 2023 season and 23 personnel deployed in just 12 instances.

Heading into Week 3, there were reports that the Steelers wanted Canada to “take on a more prominent role” working with Pickett. There was no shortage of speculation as to what that might actually mean for Canada, but some of that speculation stated it might be a bit of a ruse on the Steelers part. Could this be their way of quietly transitioning Canada back toward a role as a quarterbacks coach?

The timing of that news, followed by a pretty significant shift in the type of offensive play calling is enough to make you wonder — was Matt Canada really calling the plays at all in Week 3? Hmm...

Join our Behind The Steel Curtain community, and speculate with us in the comments!