Hating the jet sweep has become almost as popular among the Pittsburgh Steelers fanbase as hating the man that helped make the play what it has become today around football, offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
The jet sweep was invented by in 2003 by Division-II Colorado School of Mines head coach Bob Stitt and was co-opted by some coaches that ran Hal Mumme’s Air Raid scheme, including recently deceased innovator Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia.
But the Air Raid is not an NFL-like scheme, or at least, it wasn’t then. In 2012 at Wisconsin, Canada combined the jet sweep with an inside zone handoff, making it an option play that could be run with NFL-like personnel.
When he broke that combination out as a surprise to beat Penn State with Pitt in 2016, and then led the Panthers to their best season of offensive football ever, it really started to get attention from NFL coaches like Andy Reid and Sean McVay. Those coaches implemented Canada’s play into their schemes and began the popularity of the jet sweep around the NFL.
Nearly every NFL team now runs jet sweeps and option handoffs, which along with pre-snap motions and shifts, are essentially the hallmarks of Canada’s offensive scheme. With the Pittsburgh Steelers, that offensive system hasn’t really worked. The Steelers finished 28th in yards per play and 21st in points scored in Canada’s first season as offensive coordinator in 2021. They’re 28th and 27th right now, late into his second season.
So, it’s understandable that Canada has become a lightning rod for the Steelers fanbase. But the hatred for the jet sweep, on the other hand, seems misplaced.
The Steelers’ leading rusher by yards per carry this season is George Pickens (8.0). Second is Chase Claypool (6.9). Third is Gunner Olszewski (5.8). Of the five wide receivers to carry the ball so far this year, four of them have a better yards per carry than starting running back Najee Harris (3.8), and Diontae Johnson (3.7) is awful close.
Four of the team’s 10 longest runs of the season were wide receiver runs, and while not every wide receiver run is a jet sweep, the vast majority of them are.
Compared to the Steelers’ other two positions that run the ball, the wide receivers are doing the best by far.
STEELERS RUSHING BY POSITION
Sunday in Carolina was the latest example. The Steelers ran three jet sweeps, with Steven Sims carrying twice for 22 and Diontae Johnson once for 3 yards. Three carries, 21 yards, and Sims had the second-longest play of the game going around the end.
The Steelers had a 3rd and 1. Twice already in the game, they had used Mitch Trubisky on a quarterback sneak in that situation. Here, they lined up in a tight formation and looked like they were going for it again, only to have Trubisky hand to Sims on the jet. He picked up not only the first down but a big play.
The jet sweep works when you look at the stats on average, and it also works well in situational football like this. Not only that, one of the best parts of the jet sweep is that it makes defenses worry about the entire width of the field in the running game. If someone is flying outside to stop the sweep every time, the Steelers will be able to beat them with the inside zone half of the play call.
You can like, love or loathe Canada, but the jet sweep works well for almost every team, and it will probably be a fixture in the Steelers playbook, even long after he’s gone.