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Saunders: Matt Canada Offense Looks a Lot Better in Year 2

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Steelers OC Matt Canada

PITTSBURGH — All three Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin after the trio each contributed at least one touchdown in the Steelers’ 35-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. One person that went without specific praise was Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada, but that doesn’t mean the offensive game-planner wasn’t deserving.

When all three Steelers quarterbacks look good, all of the running backs that played but up good numbers, and they did so despite Tomlin being somewhat critical of the offensive line, that’s a symptom of well-called offensive game plan, and that’s exactly what the Steelers had Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium.

Last season did not go well in Canada’s first as offensive coordinator. The offensive line struggled, the running game struggled, Ben Roethlisberger never seemed to have time to throw, and frankly didn’t seem interested in running the kinds of concepts that were the tenets of Canada’s offenses at other stops.

Saturday Canada’s play calling wasn’t even flashy. There was one wide receiver run, a Steven Sims jet sweep that went for 38 yards. The rest of it was simple. A lot of play action and bootlegs to make use of Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett’s athleticism. A good dose of regular runs, especially with Anthony McFarland Jr., who had seven for 56. The Steelers ran 27 times and passed 37, a plenty balanced outing for a modern NFL offense.

“I think we’ve got a lot of our base concepts down, running and pass, and we executed those well tonight,” Trubisky said. “It doesn’t matter what we call, the guys are comfortable with everything that we’ve been repping up to this point, so it’s good to see, and not just the first group. The twos and threes and the young guys up there, the guys who just got here this week were able to gout out there and execute well. It’s definitely translating from practice into the game, and that’s what you want to see.”

RELATED: Mitch Trubisky Excited to “Play Free” in Matt Canada’s Offense

The 32 points scored surpassed all but one of the Steelers games from 2021 (a 37-41 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers). 

It’s not some great success to score a bunch of points against a Seattle defense that figures to be pretty bad in a preseason game, but the fact that the Steelers offense looked so much more fluid, so much more connected and coherent gives much more hope for that unit 

The offense wasn’t perfect. Tomlin was critical of the offensive line’s pass blocking, a familiar bugaboo for a unit that has hopes to show improvement in 2022.

“We’ve got to keep (the quarterbacks) cleaner,” Tomlin said. “We’re capable of that. They brought some pressures and that was good. We had an opportunity to see some pressures and have our protection from an assignment standpoint be tested, but I’d like to see our quarterbacks cleaner than they were tonight.”

The Steelers got a little bit fortunate that they didn’t turn the ball over, despite Mason Rudolph and Jaylen Warren both putting the ball on the ground, Rudolph throwing a near pick, and Pickett taking a couple of ill-advised sacks. They were all fortunate to be able to capitalize on a turnover created by the Steelers defense in the game’s waning moments.

But the offensive scheme was rightfully skewered through much of 2021, and even with just one preseason game in the books, it’s clear it’s going to look a lot different in 2022, and that should be a very good thing for the Steelers.

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