The Steelers offense was a mixed bag in 2022 at best. At worst, it was another year of downtrodden offensive football that continues to be questionable across the board. But one of the biggest things that simply has never made sense in the team’s inability to attack the middle of the field.
It is not linked to one offensive coordinator or one quarterback. Now, across multiple quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, the Steelers have ignored the middle of the field. In fact, it’s so bad that it shows up on the stat sheet in historically bad fashion.
Pro Football Focus released their quarterback guide this week, and in it, there was an innocuous note about how little the team attacks the middle of the field. The Steelers have the second fewest yards in between the numbers in the NFL over the past two seasons, with the Bears trailing the team. However, the Bears rank dead last in passing attempts, while the Steelers have the sixth most.
The outlet won’t place explicit blame on Matt Canada or Kenny Pickett, but it’s clear that something needs to improve in that area in 2023. Pittsburgh has weapons that can attack the middle of the field, and with their lack of explosive plays, that has to be an area they open up.
“For several years now, the Steelers’ passing offense has been one of the least diverse in the league,” PFF wrote, “It’s a lot of quick-hitting routes outside the numbers, with the deeper opportunities coming almost exclusively on go-balls down the sideline. Receivers like George Pickens can win in those downfield, 50-50 situations, but it’s a tough way to move the ball consistently, especially without a run game to help keep the offense on schedule. In Matt Canada’s two years as offensive coordinator, the only two teams with fewer passing yards between the numbers on throws at least five yards downfield than the Steelers (1,945) are the Chicago Bears (1,786). The total pass attempts over that two-year stretch are 1,235 for Pittsburgh (sixth-most in NFL) compared to 919 for the Bears (last in NFL). ”
To say the least, this has been an issue for a while, but the heat map in PFF’s chart reveals it even more. Canada’s scheme has been geared towards the sideline, but they have to manufacture explosive plays through the passing game, and the best avenue for that is to go to the middle of the field. Canada prefers to get a lot of his explosive play production through the ground game, but if he can’t get that, the passing game has to substitute for it.