A report surfaced after Christmas that members of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization don’t anticipate offensive coordinator Matt Canada returning for the 2023 season.
But don’t count Steelers running back Najee Harris in that group. Not only did Harris deliver a message of confidence in Canada following the team’s 28-14 victory during Week 18, Harris appeared to also speak for his teammates while defending Canada in front of the media on January 8.
“We all believe in Matt Canada,” said Harris.
Harris continued, addressing one of Canada’s biggest criticisms.
“Everybody’s saying he called the same plays, but everybody calls the same plays,” Harris told the media. “You can look at everybody everywhere. Everybody calls the same plays.”
The Steelers won in Week 18 to finish the 2022 season with a 9-8 record. In two seasons with Canada as offensive coordinator, the Steelers own an 18-15-1 record.
Harris Blames Execution for Early 2022 Offensive Issues
The 24-year-old running back has only been in Pittsburgh for two seasons, but on January 8, he seemed to have a pretty accurate pulse on the fanbase’s opinion of the team’s offensive coordinator situation.
Mike Tomlin has received his fair share of criticism over the years, but a large portion of Steelers fans also love him. And up until this season, Pittsburgh possessed a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.
So when the offense has struggled over the last decade, Steelers Nation has generally blamed the offensive coordinator.
Harris argued against always blaming the Steelers OC on January 8.
“All that play calling stuff, I think that’s just a coverup for just the lack of stuff that we were doing on the field as players,” Harris told the media. “I never bought into none of that.”
“Cause I know at the end of the day, we’re the ones who gotta make the plays.”
Harris isn’t necessarily wrong. Players and even other offensive coaches have to share a responsibility with the offensive coordinator when an offense is not clicking.
The Pros and Cons of Keeping Canada for 2023
No one would have blinked if Tomlin elected to fire Canada after the team entered its bye week at 2-6 on October 30. But Tomlin kept Canada on the staff, and the offense improved during the season half of the season.
A lot of the improvement was due to Harris. The 24-year-old running back recorded six 80-yard rushing games in the final nine weeks of the season. That was after he didn’t have a single 80-yard rushing day in the first eight games.
Harris ended the season with 83 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 18. He had his best day on the ground this season with 111 yards and caught the game-winning touchdown in Week 17.
Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett showed significant progress under Canada as well. Pickett had 5 touchdown passes versus only 1 interception in the final seven weeks. In his first five appearances, the rookie quarterback had 2 touchdowns versus 8 interceptions.
But while the Steelers offense made great strides, the unit continued to make some of the same mistakes it did during the first half of the season.
In 2022, the Steelers led the league with 7 ineligible man downfield penalties. Offensive guard Kevin Dotson committed that foul on a screen pass to Harris in Week 18 that nullified a 45-yard gain.
Harris can say what he wants about player execution, but coaching can still share equal blame when the same error is made repeatedly.
With the Steelers missing the playoffs on January 8, the offseason has arrived in Pittsburgh. So the question now becomes whether the offensive improvements the Steelers experienced during the second half of 2022 were enough to justify a third season for Canada.