This time of year is the NFL’s eternal optimism season, everyone is healthy, everyone is excited about their future. Not all of that will translate once the games count but inside the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room, they’re striking a different tone about the Matt Canada-led offense for 2023.
According to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Rutter, Steelers’ quarterbacks are talking up changes in the way Canada is running things in his third year as Steelers’ offensive coordinator. It seems to be central to having more continuity with QB Kenny Pickett, in his second NFL season and clear-cut starter for 2023, allowing the offense to mix in new concepts. Even to more veteran players like Mason Rudolph, the playbook isn’t a cut-and-paste of a year ago.
“There are plenty of new concepts, I can tell you that, that I’ve had to learn,” Rudolph said via Rutter.
Rudolph sat in free agency for roughly two months before making the surprising decision to return to the Steelers on a cheap, one-year deal last month. Rudolph didn’t disclose to Rutter what those changes are, adding it isn’t a revolution, but he noted having a Year Two quarterback and better offense as a whole are reasons why Canada is able to add.
2023 is a critical year for Canada. In the final year of his contract, the Steelers’ offense has floundered under him. In 2022, the team ranked 26th in points per game while they ranked only slightly better in Ben Roethlisberger’s final year, 21st in scoring in 2021. For each of the past two years, Pittsburgh’s ranked a paltry 23rd in red zone offense, one reason for their poor scoring marks.
Beyond the stats, Canada has been criticized for overly simplified, high school-esque concepts and a small playbook overall. In some fairness to him, he’s had somewhat difficult quarterback situations, first having to mesh with Roethlisberger in the final year of his Hall of Fame career followed by working with new faces in Mitch Trubisky and Pickett throughout 2023. Still, the offense was poorly called, especially over the first month of the year, and it only improved once the team focused on the ground game, which o-line coach Pat Meyer spearheads.
“There are some new things that can make us a lot better,” Rudolph said.
With stability at quarterback and an offense that looks solid on paper, expectations are rightfully higher this season. The Steelers’ offense should at least crack the top half while the red zone offense ideally creeps toward the top ten. Canada is out of excuses and if he can’t get the job done for a third year in a row, he’ll be out of time.