The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been stagnant in its first three games, but the shouts to fire Matt Canada are justified by these odd stats.
To varying degrees, fans may have a point: Matt Canada should be fired. However, you shouldn’t take their word that Steelers should fire Canada; just look at the odd stats put up by Pittsburgh’s offense in the last two weeks. They clearly back up the notion that the Steelers offense not only reeks, but they are putting up numbers comparable to their style of play dating back before the Chuck Noll era. Not an omen of good things to come.
Odd Stats in Steelers vs. New England
One stat that jumps out after the Steelers lost to the Patriots is that Mitch Trubisky threw for 168 yards. In their opening game, he threw for just 194 yards against Cincinnati. The last time any Steelers quarterback equaled or threw for less in the first two weeks of any season was the first two weeks of the 1979 season, via Pro Football Reference archives. The Steelers threw for 190 yards against the Patriots and only managed 174 yards passing against Houston in the second game.
Not counting 2019, when the Seahawks injured Ben Roethlisberger, the last starting quarterback to log a completion ratio of less than 57% completion after his first two games turned out to be Earl Moral in 1958, and the Steelers traded him after the 2nd game of the season.
Switching to the rushing game, the last running back to start two games with less than 3.3 yards per rush was Frenchy Fuqua in 1974 — averaging 3.3 yards. Leo Elter in 1953 had 3.1 yards per carry, and Charlie Scales averaged 3.1 yards per attempt in the first two games of 1960. Over his first two games, Najee averaged 2.88 yards per carry, worse than any of the above-listed running backs.
Odd Stats in Steelers vs. Cleveland
If the Week 2 stats didn’t make you cry, the Week 3 stats will. On a defensive note, the Steelers are now 0-6 without T.J. Watt. Hopefully, he returns quickly, as the season will not get easier after the Jets game.
After the Browns game, Mitch Trubisky had thrown for 569 passing yards in his first three games. In the Roethlisberger era, the only time Ben threw for less than that and finished the first three games with a record of 1-2 was in 2006. The last season without Ben Rothlisberger as a quarterback that this occurred was in 1997, when they started 1-2 under the leadership of Kordell Stewart.
As Week 3 ended, Mitch Trubisky finished with a 60% completion rating; the last time that happened without Ben Roethlisberger on the roster transpired in 2000 when they started 0-3. Oddly between 1980-2000, the Steelers, over their first three games, finished with a completion rating of less than 60% over their first three weeks in 17 of those 20 seasons.
Granted, the Steelers rushing game in the last few seasons has not been stellar by any stretch, but so far, the Steelers have rushed for a total of 270 yards. The previous season they did this bad occurred in 2018 during the Ben Roethlisberger era, and they had a record of 1-1-1 after the first three games. The last such season before 2004 was in 2002. That year they only rushed for 239 total yards against Cleveland (an overtime game), Oakland, and New England.
So far, Najee Harris has 124 rushing yards in his first three weeks. Sure he has steadily increased production each week. The last number one draft choice by the Steelers to rush for less than 124 yards after three weeks happened to be Lynn Chandnois in the 1956 season.
Finally, the only other running backs to fare worse than Najee Harris after three weeks with less than 3.2 yards per carry from best to worst are Leo Elter in 1959, Frank Pollard in 1988, Carey Davis in 2008, Dick Young in 1957, Lynn Chandnois 1956, Cannonball Butler 1965-1966, Will Johnson 2015 and Sid Watson 1955.
Steelers stats vs. Matt Canada
The underlying point is that the Steelers offense is not doing very well, no matter how you slice it. There are an additional few stats that pad this point; this is an offensive coordinator problem, not just the Steelers having a poor offense.
In 27 seasons, the Steelers have scored five touchdowns or less in its first three games. Thirteen of those seasons occurred before 1969. Of the remaining 14 seasons, it’s happened twice with Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator. The last time that happened with the same offensive coordinator was 2001-2002 with Mike Mularkey. While it also occurred in 2000 also, they had Kevin Gilbride as offensive coordinator in 2000.
Extrapolate for the low rushing output; it has occurred twice under Canada’s tenure as well. In the first three weeks of 2022 and in the first three weeks of 2021, the Steelers only rushed for 159 yards. In both seasons, the Steelers started 1-2.
You can blame the Steelers offensive line; many still do. That said, while the Steelers offensive line is bad, it’s not that bad. Not bad enough to account for how anemic the Steelers offense looks. You can blame Trubisky. Ok, sure you can, but then Canada has hamstrung him in that he doesn’t have the option to call an audible when needed. Of course, you can not blame Trubisky for the rushing problems.
With rushing problems, you could blame the offensive except for one thing. When Jalen Warren plays, he cuts to the hole as needed where it is. In Najee Harris’ first two games, he ran the play as designed whether there was a hole or not. Against Cleveland, he did a little better running or cutting back to the hole where it was. Ramon Foster did a segment on this talk show.
While there is blame to go around, it falls squarely on Matt Canada for running an offense that is almost dead last in the league, with only Chicago and Seattle putting up worse offensive stats. He runs everything side to side and is not stretching the field. When the Steelers have a dynamic deep threat in George Pickens, do they try to hit him for 50-plus yards? No, Canada opts for Trubisky to hit Johnson for six yards. If they stretched the field a bit and attempted some deep plays, it might even open up running lanes as all of the defensive players will not be cheating up, which is clogging up running lanes and preventing any game-breaking rushes.
Steelers Mike Tomlin vs. Matt Canada
Then there is a larger issue at play here. Tomlin has not had a losing season, yet he has to see the looming train wreck about to occur unless something happens. Tomlin is in a difficult situation; if he does nothing, he could be in the hot seat with Canada at the end of the season. Tomlin could fire Canada, although that’s not the Steelers style to fire a coach in midseason. However, if he doesn’t, this season ends badly.
Tomlin has only one other choice if he does not fire Canada. He can play one other card, which he remains reluctant to play so far. He could start Kenny Pickett. Fans want to see something change offensively. Short of firing Canada or him offering his resignation, neither of which options are very likely, the only other thing he can do is bench Trubisky for Kenny Pickett.
Tomlin would rather keep him on the bench than rush him, which is fine. Perhaps it’s the best course of action at least until the Steelers elimination from playoff contention. At least Pickett would not have much pressure, and it’s a learning experience. However, while appeasing fans, putting him in now will not do much to correct the ship, at least until Canada is gone. Of course, in 2004, no one thought Big Ben would step in for one game and steal the show. Not to say Pickett would, but then again, until you put him in, one never knows.
One thing is clear the Steelers are heading in the wrong direction. While there will need to be a clear direction in positional signings in 2023, that’s a year off. The Steelers, either Mike Tomlin or the Rooney’s, need to do something. Whatever that move is is still unclear; however, what everyone else except the Steelers agrees on at this point is someone must go, and that is Canada.