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Saunders: Steelers OC Change Won’t Tell Us Much about Kenny Pickett, Unless it Works

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Steelers QB Kenny Pickett QB Coach Mike Sullivan
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan talks with Kenny Pickett during OTAs on May 14, 2022. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers made the biggest in-season change in team history on Tuesday, firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada, which is believed to be the first time the team fired a coordinator mid-season in club history. The move came on the heels of an abysmal offensive performance in the team’s 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and amid the continued lack of development of former first-round draft pick, quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Firing Canada made sense for the Steelers in an obvious big-picture way. Things weren’t working with Canada leading Pickett and the offense, and there was no way to separate the evaluation of the two. 

Was Canada holding back Pickett? Was Pickett unable to execute Canada’s scheme? 

Impossible to truly say. But the team has a whole lot invested in Pickett’s success and practically none in Canada’s, so making the move the way they did makes sense.

In Canada’s place, running backs coach Eddie Faulkner and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan will share the duties of offensive coordinator, with Sullivan reportedly calling plays while Faulkner holds the title.

If it works, and if Pickett looks better under Faulkner and Sullivan, well then the Steelers guessed right, Canada was the problem, and all is well in Black and Gold land.

But if it doesn’t work, and Pickett doesn’t look appreciably better going forward the rest of the season, it really doesn’t tell us much about what the Steelers have in Pickett.

Yes, he failed to develop under Canada. But Sullivan was the quarterbacks coach that entire time. He was part and parcel of the unit that was supposed to be developing Pickett, anyway.

Sullivan has been an NFL offensive coordinator before. The last time he called plays for an NFL team, he finished 31st in scoring with Eli Manning at quarterback. Manning is a borderline Hall of Famer. If Sullivan couldn’t do it with that guy, it’s not necessarily an indictment of Pickett if it doesn’t succeed now.

Furthermore, Faulkner is a Canada disciple. The Steelers were their third coaching stop together. His principles are unlikely to be wildly different than that of his predecessor. As a running backs coach, he should probably be expected to emphasize the run more, and that might help the team, but he should probably not be expected to have all the answers for developing Kenny Pickett.

Mike Tomlin had an algebra problem. He knew that KP plus MC equalled a negative number. By substituting one of those variables, he might solve the problem. If KP plus EFMS is positive, great. 

But if it’s still negative, we still won’t know if Pickett is the problem, or if he’ll still be held down by an ineffective scheme and unproven coaches.

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DG Lewis
DG Lewis
November 21, 2023 11:30 am

Per Aaron Schatz of the former Football Outsiders, the Steelers have played the hardest schedule of opposing defenses of any team in the NFL this year, and extended to a full season would be the hardest slate since 1981. So the Steelers’ offense can be expected to improve just because they’re playing easier defense, and everyone will rejoice that firing Canada fixed things.

Jesus Christani
Jesus Christani
November 21, 2023 11:49 am

I, continually, compare Kenny to Eli Manning but the NFL QB Pickett reminds me of the most is Jake ‘The Snake’ Plummer. Jake was not flashy, didn’t have that big arm but what he had was that walk and talk of a confident quarterback; he was smart and humble. In addition to that, in Denver, he had an offensive coordinator named, Mike Shanahan (Kyle’s father). That made a big difference in the last years of his career. I wasn’t too concerned when The Steelers met them in the AFC Championship Game in Denver on the way to The 5th Lombardi… Read more »

Allen Fant
Allen Fant
November 21, 2023 4:42 pm

I think that we are going to find out that Pickett was just as much to blame for his LOUSY showing as Canada was. Canada was not out there overthrowing and under throwing passes or holding the ball too long while trying to find the open receiver. I, like many others tried to place the blame on Canada. Dan Moore and Pickett deserve a lot of the blame. This team has a wealth of offensive talent that is not being utilized. Darnell Washington is a classic example. If Dan Moore was able to play like he is being paid to… Read more »

Dirk Miller
Dirk Miller
November 21, 2023 6:55 pm

Not so sure we know all there is to know about KP by the end of the year. From all the analysis I have read Canada ran a simple offense that may have worked in college but not the NFL. If that is true (no way I can fact check) then they need better offensive schemes. But it seems undeniable that KP has some accuracy issues and always seems to roll the wrong direction into defenders.

Edward Carmichael
Edward Carmichael
November 22, 2023 10:44 am

as a true Steelers fan, all both new offensive coordinators Mike Sullivan and Eddie Faulker what they shuold do is start having Kenny Pickett throw the ball more to Pat Freiermuth, Calvin Austin lll, and Darnell Washington and also use the middle of the field more and defenses will stop double teaming George Pickens and I would allow Kenny Pickett to call some of his own plays also then all the sports media groups and Steelers haters will see a big difference in Kenny Pickett

Edward Carmichael
Edward Carmichael
November 22, 2023 11:14 am

as a true Steelers fan, what I want know is both offensive coordinators Mike Sullivan and Eddie Faulker will have Kenny Pickett throw the ball more Pat Freiermuth, Calvin Austin lll, and Darnell Washington and allow Kenny Pickett call some of his own plays so it will stop defenses from double teaming George Pickens