The Pros and Cons of Matt Canada Returning

Photo credit: The Associated Press

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Now that the dust has settled (and tempers have cooled), I thought it would be a good time to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers' decision to retain offensive coordinator Matt Canada.  After a pretty lackluster season offensively, both statistically and creatively, the team opted to keep Canada instead of going in a different direction.  I believe there's pros and cons to this decision so let's discuss both.

Now, with the decision already being made, I want to have some sort of optimism about this move.  So I dug deep and was able to find a couple of pros to this decision.  

The first is that Matt Canada is not Byron Leftwich.  Rumors were circulating last week that if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Leftwich as their offensive coordinator, which they ultimately ended up doing, that the Steelers were looking to bring him back to the organization in the same capacity.  As  hard as this may be to believe, Leftwich might actually be a worse offensive coordinator than Canada.

Tampa Bay made the playoffs this season with a losing record.  And despite the playoff berth, it was a very disappointing season given the talent on the roster.   A very telling sign of that is the Buccaneers had the lowest points per game by a playoff team in the past several decades.  That is coming from a team that features Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Leonard Fournette on offense.  

While injuries to the offensive line did play a factor in this, an elite group of players of their caliber should not struggle to score as much as they did.  And a lot of that had to do with the horrendous play-calling Leftwich featured all season long.  There is no sense in replacing a bad offensive coordinator with another bad offensive coordinator, especially when the first already has familiarity with the team... which brings me to my second pro.

Although Canada left a lot to be desired, retaining him for another season will be helpful to the development of Kenny Pickett in the long run.  Having a rookie quarterback switch offensive coordinators after his first season can be a daunting task.  The rookie takes all of their first season learning a new NFL offense and by season's end, they finally start to feel comfortable in that offense. I think that showed with Pickett this season.  But to then fire that offensive coordinator and bring in a replacement, which will ultimately implement an entirely new offense, sets the rookie back by having to learn a new offense all over again. Coaching consistency should do Pickett some good heading into his second season.

With all of that being said, there are definitely cons to keeping Canada around and as someone who was critical of him all season long, I do feel these outweigh the pros.

The main knock against Canada is how unproductive the offense looked for the majority of the season.  A graphic flashed during the final game of the season next to Matt Canada in the booth with four notable statistics on it:  Points Per Game, Yards Per Play, Red Zone TD percentage and 3-and-Out percentage.  At that time, the Steelers' rankings in those were 31st, 31st, tied for 28th, and 29th, respectively.  Those are some incriminating numbers.  To be next to league worst in points per game and yards per play is pretty indicative of whether your play-calling abilities are successful or not.

While things seemed to get better towards the end of the season, I caution you to revisit those games.  Just because the Steelers were winning them does not necessarily mean the offense gained significant strides.  In two of their final three games, the Steelers didn't score a touchdown until the final minute of the game.  However, because both of these instances provided them with a comeback victory, it comes off looking better for the progression of the offense than it actually was.

Another con going against Canada is this type of production, or lack thereof, isn't just an outlier.  If anything, it's the norm.  Canada's career as an offensive coordinator is not filled with high-flying numbers.  Realistically, he only had one successful season and it was during his year at Pitt.  Canada was able to succeed by running a "gimmick" offense, so to speak, that was full of end-arounds and other gadget plays.  I fondly remember receiver Qadree Henderson putting up insane numbers as a result of this.  However, the NFL is much different than the collegiate level.  You can't get away with running that style of offense and I think that showed.  

The Steelers' offense was predictable and vanilla.  That was very telling in those two games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, when they scored their only touchdown in the final minute.  All game long, the offense found very little success until they had to deviate from the playbook at the end of the game with their backs against the wall.  With a little more freedom and improvisation to their play-calling, they were able to find their way into the end zone.  I don't think that's simply a coincidence.

For a team known for having the most coaching stability in the league, I see why the Steelers opted to bring back Matt Canada as their offensive coordinator.  However, I don't agree with it.  This offense has far too many weapons at their disposal to be a bottom-feeder in those offensive metrics I mentioned earlier.  

While it is true that an added year of experience under Kenny Pickett's belt should help with that, the blame can't be put entirely on him.  The brunt of their struggles fall on Canada's shoulders and the team should have acted accordingly.  Begrudgingly though, Canada remains as OC heading into the 2022-2023 season.  Hopefully, another year of experience between he and Pickett can help bring this team back to the long playoff run so many Steelers fans desire.