Steelers’ Kenny Pickett Puts OC Matt Canada on Notice

Kenny Pickett

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett implied during his postgame press conference that the team's offense needed to run the ball more often in Week 1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a clear goal in mind to begin the 2023 NFL season against the San Francisco 49ers.

After winning the coin toss, the Steelers accepted the ball to start the game. That differed from their more conservative strategy of defense first last season.

Once they had the ball, the Steelers offense also looked different than last year. Rather than attempting to establish the run, Pittsburgh’s offense ran through second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett.

The philosophy didn’t work. With their pass-first mentality, the Steelers controlled the ball for under 9 minutes in the first half. The 49ers took advantage of terrific field position through the first two quarters and cruised to a 30-7 victory.

Pickett accepted blame for his poor play during his postgame press conference. But he also appeared to address offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s game plan when asked why the team only managed to put together one scoring drive in Week 1.

“Good to go down there and get points,” Pickett said when referring to the 2-minute drill before halftime. “But we needed to have more balance. It felt like we were one-sided today.

“Couldn’t really get anything going on the ground. Wish we had more balance, but we need to improve in a lot of areas.”

The Steelers only attempted 10 rushes while Pickett dropped back to pass 51 times.

Pickett’s 46 pass attempts were his most in a game since his first NFL start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 5 last year.

Steelers’ Early-Passing Game Plan

The 49ers were first in rushing yards allowed per carry and second in total run defense last season. So instead of running against a brick wall, Canada called early plays to get Pickett in a rhythm.

With Pickett coming off a preseason where he posted a perfect passer rating, the plan made sense on paper. The only problem was the 49ers also have a strong secondary, and it moved the Steelers away from their 2021 offensive strength.

After a six-yard completion on first down to open the game, a short end around pass lost a yard, and then Pickett took a sack on third-and-5.

On their second drive, the Steelers also faced third-and-5 after a run and pass combined for 5 yards. Pickett’s second third-down attempt ended in an interception.

The Steelers didn’t run many plays in general. They went three-and-out or turned the ball over on each of their first four drives.

But of their 12 plays on those four possessions, only two of them were runs.

Run Game Sparks Steelers’ Only Scoring Drive

In Canada’s defense, it’s not like he didn’t at least try to establish a ground attack. As Pickett said, the Steelers “couldn’t really get” the rushing attack going.

49ers linebacker Fred Warner stuffed Najee Harris for a 2-yard loss on the team’s second drive. That was Pittsburgh’s first run of the game.

Pittsburgh’s fifth drive began with two runs, which only gained 4 yards.

By that point, the Steelers trailed the 49ers 20-0. Even with two and a half quarters remaining, Canada’s play calling had to get more aggressive with more passes.

The Steelers run game, though, sparked the team’s offense in the 2-minute drill. On third-and-1, Harris found an opening down the sideline, running for 24 yards.

Could more of that occurred if Canada had placed more trust in the rushing attack? Perhaps, but in the second half, when the team seldomly ran the ball, the Steelers only picked up a few yards.

It’s easy to assume that Canada is to blame for the lack of offensive balance. Again, Pittsburgh’s game plan was clearly set to establish the passing attack first.

But it will be interesting to hear if Pickett changed any of the plays at the line of scrimmage during the game. If he did, it’s possible Pickett should share the blame for the lack of rushing attempts in Week 1.

Pickett didn’t mention Canada by name in his postgame press conference. He only spoke about the unbalanced offensive attack.

Whoever is to blame, though, 41 rushing yards on 10 carries is not the recipe for winning football even in the modern NFL.

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James Jarrett
James Jarrett
13 days ago

New coordinator