The Steelers officially fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada following one of the most abysmal stretches of offensive play in recent history in the NFL. While fans were quick to rejoice, the focus now has to be on what Kenny Pickett can do with his proverbial training wheels taken off.
The offense won’t change in a major way. Coordinator duties are set to be shared by quarterback coach Mike Sullivan and running back coach Eddie Faulkner. Expecting an entirely new system is unlikely with the season already over halfway done, but changes are naturally going to occur. My focus will be less on them, as unless this offense does a complete 180, a new option should be taking over the role next season.
What I want to see is how Pickett now plays. I have been very critical of his play so far this season, and I believe it has been warranted. No, Canada wasn’t calling a great gameplan, but Pickett was also missing open receivers, had trouble progressing through his reads, and had no pocket presence whatsoever.
Will all of those things be instantly fixed with a new coordinator? Absolutely not (despite what some fans may say). That said, if Canada was that detrimental to Pickett, then we need to see some improvements from him for the remainder of this season.
What do the Steelers need from Kenny Pickett?
I don’t expect Pickett to suddenly morph into Joe Burrow and begin lighting up opposing defenses. He hasn’t shown any ability to do that on his own, and I believe that having Faulkner get part of the coordinator role is to hopefully further establish this running game. The offense will likely be built around Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, and rightfully so.
What I need to see is a quarterback that can actually aid an offense. Minus maybe the Raiders game, Pickett hasn’t shown that. He has proven to be a below-average game manager, which won’t cut it in the modern NFL. I need to see development from him as a quarterback and do more than just not turn the ball over.
In particular, I want to see Pickett have at least one great game. Around 300 passing yards and multiple touchdowns. He has yet to have a performance like that, which is a bad sign for someone that you want to be your franchise quarterback.
Beyond that one good game, we need to see an ability to use the middle of the field and progress through reads. Every good quarterback does this, and it is something that Pickett has yet to showcase. He needs to clean up his ability in the pocket as well. The blocking hasn’t always been there, but Pickett has also been guilty of bailing on clean pockets and running into pressure.
What does it mean if Pickett doesn’t show these?
This is the time to prove that a lot of the issues with Pickett as a player were because of Canada and his offense. If he still looks mostly the same or just progresses to an average game manager, you have a real issue on your hands at quarterback.
If Pickett doesn’t flash anything over the remainder of the season, I am officially opening the door to looking at other options. Unfortunately, a top quarterback prospect likely won’t be available where the Steelers pick, but a trade-up or even a second-round pick could be on the table. This upcoming class looks deep, and I want to apply some pressure on Pickett if he can’t show anything new despite having his kryptonite in Canada gone.
I wouldn’t venture the free-agent quarterback route. That gets really pricy, and more often than not you aren’t getting top quarterbacks. I’m a Kirk Cousins fan, but I don’t think he elevates this team to a Super Bowl contender. He will eat up a lot of cap space and still prohibit this team from finding their franchise savior in the draft.
If we are having the same conversations about Pickett going into the offseason though, something needs to change. Even if he is slated as the starter, there needs to be some serious competition behind him.
The Steelers did the right thing by firing Canada. Now, they need to put Pickett under a microscope. If things begin to change, great! If not, then the team needs to look elsewhere for a quarterback next season and beyond.