Though the Pittsburgh Steelers’ lone offensive drive with Kenny Pickett looked crisp and productive, Pickett leading the Steelers down the field, capped off by a George Pickens’ 33-yard touchdown. But not everyone was thrilled with how things looked.
Former NFL QB J.T. O’Sullivan has a great YouTube channel, The QB School, that evaluates quarterback play around the NFL. He took a look at Pickett’s opening performance and while he was generally happy with the job he did, O’Sullivan wasn’t pleased with Matt Canada’s playcalling.
The first few minutes of O’Sullivan’s breakdown are dedicated to Canada and his basic playcalling. He shows two of the first three pass plays and then chimes in with his critique.
“Hank and spacing to get us going,” O’Sullivan says. “That’s what we’re doing, Steelers. I personally would struggle in an environment like this.”
Here’s a look at the first two plays.
“Hank” is the completion to TE Pat Freiermuth. It’s a very simple spacing concept with Freiermuth on the “Hank” route, a five-yard over-the-ball (OTB) route that sees him settle underneath. The next is, as O’Sullivan later refers to it, as stick-spacing, a very similar concept that has George Pickens run the stick/out route to the top while the other receivers settle underneath.
For O’Sullivan, who started eight NFL games and spent several seasons in the league, his plea to Canada is to open up the offense with more advanced concepts.
“There’s so much better stuff. So much better stuff…for this organization, they do it more than others. It’s almost like two middle fingers to the dropback passing evolution of what football is and should be nowadays. I don’t understand it. It’s comedy but also pain at the same time.”
O’Sullivan concedes the completion to Freiermuth works, though the following one to Najee Harris is a mess, the RDE dropping into the flat as the ILB blitzes, Pickett throwing hot but the play ends up going nowhere. Those A-gap/dropper concepts had tons of success against Pittsburgh last season, the Steelers repeatedly trying and failing to throw hot last season.
In fairness to Canada, he’s dealt with new and younger quarterbacks over the last two years, the rookie Pickett taking over as the team’s starter mid-way through Week 4 last season. And while O’Sullivan may protest, just about every team runs Hank, something we joked about earlier this year. Canada drew up a couple more impressive-looking concepts later in the game, like this Drive/Follow concept to get Connor Heyward open.
Still, the Steelers’ offense can’t nickel and dime their way into the end zone with high-school spacing concepts. The offense has to do more. The knock on Canada is his offenses are too simplified, too basic to work at a high-level against the brightest defensive minds. He enters 2023 on the hot seat and if Pittsburgh’s offense can’t produce, the Steelers will be searching for a new offensive coordinator in 2024. The personnel is there. Canada must open up the playbook. For his sake and judging by the pain in his voice, for J.T. O’Sullivan’s sake, too.
Watch the whole video below.