If you’re not a fan of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, this article is for you. And there’s another one waiting for you tomorrow. I’m usually the type to hate the idea of a coach being predictable. A vague catch-all that means everything and nothing and is often not supported by evidence. But the more I watch this Canadian-led attack, the more I come back to that word. Predictable.
Watching the Buffalo Bills tape, something stuck with me and Dave Bryan. A particular passing concept reoccurring on screen over and over again. I went back and charted it and there was a clear – and predictable – trend. Let’s talk about it.
The concept I am referring to today does not have a specific name that I can associate with it. But it’s a simple three-way from a 3×1 formation. Two outside receivers run vertically and interrupt their route based on leverage with a lunge receiver bending his route in the middle of the field. The tail and the tight end chip and loosen in the dish. On paper, this is what it looks like. It’s a bit crude but that’s the idea. We’ll bring it to the tape in a second.
It took up to seven minutes to go in the second quarter, but Canada called off that play in the 1st and 10 over and over again. In plotting that play, he called it seven times, all 1st and 10, six on Steelers territory and five staff out of 11, all 3×1 formations with infield moves and back backs . Here’s how it’s written.
Again, receivers on the outside interrupt their route based on DB leverage, so their routes look a bit different. But the concept is the same. Vertical routes by No. 1 receivers, No. 2 performing a bender, fullback and tight end chipping and loosening in flats as control options.
Here is the first example, Pickett taking a profit and checking to TE Zach Gentry who lands a first down. Chase Claypool is frustrated not to have the ball but at least Pickett has moved the sticks.
As Dave noted, Canada called the next two in quick order, in two of three games. At the end of the first half, the Steelers 1 and 10 had 27, Canada called again. Another deposit to Najee Harris for five.
After a Von Miller offside gave the Steelers 1st and 10 points, Canada went back to it. On the play above, the Bills swoop in and turn to cover 2 and Canada wants Pickett to hit Diontae Johnson for a hole shot past the corner and past safety. But there is no flat defender to hold the corner and the Bills adapt to the game they literally I just saw, the CB sinks and picks up the pass.
Third quarter. Out of 12 members this time Canada calls him again to open a drive and two games later he calls him again. Miller fires Pickett the second time around.
The last two examples, the two checkdowns to Jaylen Warren.
Seven pieces of the same appeal dressed only slightly differently. Twice on a different group of staff, but still the same overall look. Canada added a bit of movement at the end, but that’s not fooling anyone. Certainly not the bills. To put the numbers into context, Pickett threw 17 passes at 1st and 10 from home territory to the opposing 45-yard line. 41.1% of them were this call.
One last time, here are the seven pieces together.
It’s such a bland, constricting and ineffective offense. A few of those passes were over, but everything was underhanded, with the Bills allowing the checkdown, building their fence, and the Steelers couldn’t hit a big play. The one time they fired, Pickett was picked.
If you want to go further, and I’ll talk about it tomorrow, everything the Steelers’ 1st and 2nd setbacks, 35.1% of them (13 of 37) were either that three-way concept or the team sprint. More than a third of them were just one of two play calls.
Did any of those calls result in decent pickups? I suppose. Most of the time, Pickett has just passed the checkdown. Only one of them hit a receiver. But Canada was so quick to call those games that they resulted in heavier negatives, a sack and a pick, than what little positive there was. In the second half, Buffalo was content to give up the short throw and tackle the catch.
It has to be the most predictable offense in the league, the easiest for defenses to spot before and during the game. And it’s not just because a rookie like Pickett is under center now. The same was happening with Mitch Trubisky, although it got worse. It doesn’t even begin to include other grouped concepts like that of Sunday’s loss, which I’m sure I could find if I mapped them out and filled them in more closely (and just watching the game during this study I to know I could).
Good offenses don’t need to run 100 different plays. But they must at least look different from a defense. The Steelers do the same thing over and over again and think it’s going to work. When the talent gap is big, in high school, in college, you can get away with that kind of stuff. Not in the NFL and certainly not with this group of players. It’s far from being an elite attack.
Bored. I’m the one looking at this offence. Being bad is one thing. Being bad and boring is another. At least defensively, the Steelers coaching staff tries a lot of different things, even though most of them don’t work. Pittsburgh’s offensive game plan needs to change. Or this predictable offense will continue to end with predictable results.
We will be back for the second round tomorrow. Buckle up.