One of the big questions this offseason — after promoting Matt Canada to offensive coordinator — is what the offense might look like.
Though Canada has experience as OC at the collegiate level, including Pitt, he’s never before run an NFL offense. Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has been running the Steelers offense for 17 seasons. Canada may learn more from Big Ben than Ben will from Canada.
We won’t know what the Steelers’ new offense will look like until the season starts; even then, it can be a slow reveal. Glimpses of Canada’s philosophy stood out early in 2020, but they moved away from it as the season progressed.
But one thing we do know is it won’t be your typical Canada Pitt-style offense. He’s known for presnap motions and shifts, play-action, misdirection — enough to keep defenses guessing. There will certainly be elements of that, but I can’t imagine the playbook will go much beyond what Roethlisberger is comfortable with. Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks, but he won’t want to learn an entirely new offense at this point in his career — nor will the Steelers want him to. Ben will have to do some things differently from 2020, but overall, Canada’s creative and intriguing schemes will be tailored to his quarterback’s strengths.
Less pass, more run
At 38 and with a surgically-repaired elbow, Roethlisberger should’ve been passing less, not more. But when it became apparent the offensive line wasn’t able to do much more than pass protect, that’s the route they had to take.
In 2021, though, that will have to change.
A tall task ahead of Canada is to get a run game going that was last in the league in 2020. This should open up the passing game and allow Big Ben to get the ball more than seven yards downfield.
But who will be leading the rushing attack? James Conner is a free agent next month and Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels are far from feature backs. It was a small sample size, but Anthony McFarland didn’t offer much in his rookie season.
Does McFarland have what it takes to be successful in the pros? If anyone can bring it out in him, it’s Canada, who coached him for a season at Maryland. In 2018, McFarland put up 298 yards rushing, a 14.2 average, against Ohio State. The week prior, he averaged 7.2 yards per attempt for 210 yards at Indiana.
Pittsburgh will likely take a flyer on a back late in the draft, but it’s hard to imagine whoever that is making more of an impact than the experienced Snell, McFarland and Samuels.
It’s critical the Steelers show a vast improvement on the ground to help Big Ben, or they’ll be lucky to finish the 2021 season at .500.