How will we know that Matt Canada has impacted the game plan?
Imagine it. Somehow, the season starts on time. On a crisp September afternoon that hints at the autumn days to come, the Steelers defer the kickoff, produce a crowd-pleasing three-and-out on defense, and then start with great field position thanks to Diontae Johnson’s electric punt return.
Ben trots onto the field to rousing applause as he begins his “comeback player of the year” bid. Rookie starting guard, Kevin Dotson, nearly hyperventilates at the spectacle of playing for his favorite NFL franchise. Both Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald are healthy for at least one snap. Juju has had his best offseason and preseason since joining the team and looks primed for a huge paycheck at the end of the year. James Conner looks angry.
The Steelers break the huddle. They’re in 12 personnel. Ebron and McDonald start out bracketing the offensive line in a balanced look. Both Smith-Schuster and Johnson split out to the right with Johnson in the slot. Conner stands behind Roethlisberger, poised to bust through the line. But wait.
Here comes the shift. First, Ebron unbalances the line by sliding right until he’s outside of McDonald. The defensive line is in an uproar, searching for center, guarding against numbers in the run game. Ben oversees their activity and then motions Ebron to return to his original spot.
Then it’s Juju’s turn. He begins to motion toward the center of the field. The outside corner follows him and the free safety falls back toward the deep middle. Juju puts on the brakes, pivots, and returns to his original spot. The corner follows him again and the free safety jets back to the right side of the field where he hovers over Johnson and Smith-Schuster. The strong safety cheats up into the box, eye-ing James Conner.
The Steelers are in their original set but they’ve already seen how their opponent will handle an unbalanced line. They also know the secondary is in man coverage against this look and that the free safety will roll to whatever side Juju lines up.
In 20 seconds of pre-snap activity, Steelers fans will witness what an offense looks like with Matt Canada’s fingerprints all over the game plan. By the time the ball is snapped, adjustments will already have been made. The actual offensive play is simple and the Steelers execute it flawlessly. They’ll run the same play multiple times this half, but the alignment will never look the same and the defense will be perpetually on its heels.
This is what innovation and creativity look like in the modern NFL, and Steelers fans will have Matt Canada to thank for it.