Matt Canada

Steelers To Retain OC Matt Canada

Although Matt Canada‘s Steelers OC stay has not produced a turnaround on offense, the Steelers continue to support him. It does not look like the team plans to move on.

The Steelers are expected to retain Canada, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Should this course of action commence, the increasingly unpopular play-caller will be going into his third season in this role. ESPN’s Brooke Pryor noted earlier this week momentum did not appear to exist for a Steelers change here (Twitter link). The Steelers have since confirmed Canada will stay.

Canada has now worked with three starting quarterbacks during his time in Pittsburgh. Following Ben Roethlisberger‘s retirement, the Steelers signed Mitch Trubisky. The Trubisky bridge did not last especially long, with the team making the shift to Kenny Pickett early in the season. Canada sticking around will give the young passer some early-career continuity, though Canada’s offense will likely need to improve in 2023 to open the door to a long-term partnership. One year remains on Canada’s contract, Dulac adds.

Hired as the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2020, after serving as OC for seven college programs from 2007-18, Canada took the OC reins from Randy Fichtner the following season. While the Steelers have regressed in scoring in each of the past three years, going from 12th to 21st to 26th, the team did improve in offensive DVOA this season. After ranking 25th in this metric during Roethlisberger’s final slate, the team slotted 18th during Pickett’s rookie season.

The Steelers finished .500 or better for a 19th straight season, extending Mike Tomlin‘s streak to 16 such years. Canada’s offense was far from potent; the team’s 28 offensive touchdowns were the third-fewest in the league. But Pickett showed progress down the stretch and will enter 2023 as the team’s unquestioned starter. QBR placed Pickett 20th, and the Pitt product piloted the team to six wins in his final seven starts. During that span, Pickett engineered back-to-back game-winning drives — over the Raiders and Ravens — to end the season on a higher note. While Pickett’s 7-to-9 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio (in 13 games) leaves much to be desired, the Steelers are not planning to shake things up early in the first-rounder’s career.

Diontae Johnson, whom the Steelers handed an $18MM-per-year extension late this past offseason, set an NFL record for most receptions (86) without a touchdown. But second-round rookie George Pickens emerged as a potential standout, hauling in 52 passes for 801 yards and four TDs. Pat Freiermuth also took a second-year leap. The Steelers could use another viable pass catcher, after trading Chase Claypool, and their offensive line — a unit chock full of midlevel investments or players on mid-round rookie deals — is certainly not a top-shelf quintet. It appears the team will aim at personnel upgrades rather than overhauling its scheme.

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Pocic, Ravens

The Steelers are trending in the wrong direction to start the 2022 season, one which came with a number of questions on offense. After last week’s 38-3 loss to the Bills, though, no shake-up on the sidelines is expected.

When speaking to the media after the loss, head coach Mike Tomlin stated that he has been “highly involved” in the team’s offense, a unit led by Matt Canada. The latter has been the subject of plenty of scrutiny dating back to last season, his first as offensive coordinator. As Tomlin stressed, however, he will not make “changes for the sake of changes” with respect to the maligned play-caller (Twitter links via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor).

Through five weeks, Pittsburgh ranks 30th in the NFL in both yards (308.6) and points (15.4) per game. The underwhelming play of veteran signing Mitch Trubisky led to first-round rookie Kenny Pickett being installed as the starting quarterback, something which certainly didn’t produce the desired results in Week 5. He and the team face another tough matchup this Sunday against the Buccaneers.

Here are some other notes from around the AFC North:

  • Beside Tomlin, another high-profile coach who has had a hand in offensive game-planning has been Brian Flores. The former Dolphins head coach sat in on that unit’s meetings prior to the Steelers’ game against the Patriots, per SI’s Albert Breer. More generally, Breer notes, Flores has been operating as an “over-the-top assistant” with the offense, in addition to his primary responsibilities as LBs coach. The expanded role comes as the team “hopes” Flores is able to land another HC opportunity down the road.
  • As for the QB position, a deal could be coming soon. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic points out that, with Pickett having assumed No. 1 duties, it would make sense for Pittsburgh to move on from one of Trubisky or Mason Rudolph at the upcoming trade deadline (subscription required). The latter is a pending free agent and was the subject of trade talks this offseason, though the Steelers held on to him. Trubisky, meanwhile, is under contract for 2023 with a cap hit of $10.625MM.
  • The Browns have the league’s top rushing attack, something owing in no small part to the play of their offensive line. That includes center Ethan Pocic, who signed in Cleveland this offseason after five years in Seattle. When weighing the options presented by a modest free agent market, the 27-year-old chose to work with Browns o-line coach Bill Callahan. “As soon as I wasn’t going to get a big contract, a long-term contract, everything was pretty low, league minimum for the most part, I just went to the team with the best coaches and the best players,” he said, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. After the season-ending injury suffered by Nick Harris, Pocic assumed a starter’s role and currently ranks as PFF’s fourth-highest rated center.
  • The first few weeks of the season have offered a glimpse into a new element in the Ravens’ offense. The team has implemented more looks from under center for QB Lamar Jackson, as detailed by the Washington Posts’ Jason La Canfora. Jackson operated almost exclusively from the shotgun prior to entering the NFL; Baltimore deployed plenty of pistol formations during the first four years of his career. 2022, however, has seen a dramatic uptick in his under-center looks, especially in the passing game – part of OC Greg Roman‘s attempts to diversify the team’s run-heavy offense. Overall, that has so far translated to just 213 passing yards per contest (23rd in the league), so the degree to which the team remains committed to this new element will be interesting to monitor as the season progresses.

Steelers Sticking With Mitch Trubisky As Starting QB

Ben Roethlisberger began his starter run in Week 3 of the 2004 season. A Tommy Maddox injury led to that seminal switch. Eighteen years later, the Steelers’ new first-round quarterback prospect looks like he will need to wait longer.

Although some pro-Kenny Pickett chants broke out at Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game, the No. 20 overall pick will not replace Mitch Trubisky. While acknowledging Trubisky can be more aggressive with downfield throws, Tomlin said he is exercising patience with his quarterback (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor) and offensive coordinator.

I’m not happy with much of anything when we just lost a game, but I’m also experienced enough to see the big picture, that we are still very much in development,” Tomlin said, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, when asked about OC Matt Canada‘s play-calling. “I’m going to exercise appropriate patience and continue to teach and ask the guys to continue to learn in an effort to continue to push this train down the track and get better.”

This does not represent a logical week to make a switch. Following Thursday’s Browns matchup, however, a transition window opens. Trubisky’s play will dictate how much longer he has as Pittsburgh’s starter, though Pickett’s development may be a bigger factor at this point.

Pittsburgh’s offense struggled during Roethlisberger’s final season, ranking 25th in DVOA. It has offered two low-wattage performances this year. Trubisky, who has attempted 15 throws at or behind the line of scrimmage this season, enters Week 3 averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. Excluding Dak Prescott‘s one-game sample, that mark ranks as the league’s worst. Neither Chase Claypool nor second-round pick George Pickens have surpassed 30 receiving yards in a game this season.

Trubisky is not expected to keep his job throughout this season, but his two sub-200-yard performances magnify Pickett’s development. The Steelers have a Week 9 bye. Although Trey Lance, Jordan Love and Patrick Mahomes are exceptions, with their teams planning longer NFL onramps, every first-round quarterback chosen from 2017-21 had been elevated into the starting lineup by Week 10. (That list expands to 2012 if Paxton Lynch and Johnny Manziel are excluded.) With it being more norm than exception for QBs to begin their starter runs by October of their rookie year — Trubisky took over in Chicago in October 2017 — how long Pickett waits looks like it will be rather important to the Steelers’ contention prospects.

The Steelers promoted Canada from quarterbacks coach to OC last year. He replaced Randy Fichtner. Pittsburgh ranks 30th in total offense, and Najee Harris is averaging 2.9 yards per carry. Even Trubisky called on Canada to be more aggressive, though the second-year OC has not yet worked with an above-average quarterback or much offensive line talent. The offense’s performance Thursday in Cleveland certainly will be a hot-button topic.

Call concepts to get receivers there,” Trubisky said, via Pryor, on the subject of downfield passing. “When the coverage dictates that, get them the ball within that. … We like our outside matchups. We’ve got really good receivers. We’ve got really good talent across the board. We’d like to attack all areas of the field and get the ball to our playmakers. So, we could do a little bit better at everything, for sure.”

Latest On Steelers’ QB Competition

As Pittsburgh rolls into the post-Roethlisberger era, they are in the less than common situation of having four drafted quarterbacks on the roster. Mind you, the Steelers did not originally draft Mitchell Trubisky, but the point is that while most teams’ third- and/or fourth-string quarterbacks tend to be undrafted long-shots, every quarterback on Pittsburgh’s roster had draft capital invested in them. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic gave a breakdown this weekend of where each of these quarterbacks has slotted through spring practices. 

Pittsburgh acquired Trubisky in free agency this offseason after also considering then-free agents Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston. Despite the hole left behind center, the Steelers never seemed to consider trade options such as Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo and made it known early that they were not going to acquire Deshaun Watson. Trubisky signed a reasonable two-year deal to compete for the starting job in Pittsburgh after spending last season as Josh Allen‘s backup in Buffalo.

Trubisky saw all of his work this spring come with the first-team offense, throwing almost solely to Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth. Not only did he only work with the first-team, he was the only quarterback to work with the first-team receivers and offensive line combination. Trubisky appears to be a good fit with offensive coordinator Matt Canada‘s motion-heavy offense. Regardless of whether or not this is a clear indication of who will start Week 1, Trubisky is in the mindset that he will win the job saying, “I’m preparing to be a starter. I feel like, no matter what position you’re in, that’s the way you should prepare.”

The quarterback taking snaps with the second-team is not who most would assume. Third-year Steeler Mason Rudolph is currently the second-string quarterback. The former third-round draft pick has started 10 games over his career (eight in his rookie season) with limited success. Despite the potential for him to settle in as someone who had their chance and watched it pass by, Rudolph reportedly “looked the best of the four quarterbacks” this spring. Rudolph is a meticulous worker and preparer and threw the most consistent ball with the biggest body in the group. While many considered him to be nothing more than a camp body, Rudolph put himself in the quarterback conversation, even if it will require some failures from Trubisky and Pickett to get him to the top of the depth chart. “This is the best opportunity I’ve had in four years,” Rudolph told Kaboly. “I am excited, and I look forward to competing.”

Working as the third-string quarterback this spring has been rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett. Head coach Mike Tomlin and Canada both offered that their current snap distribution is based solely on seniority, with Pickett falling behind Trubisky and Rudolph despite the possibility that he may be the most talented of the bunch. The idea is for Pickett to take the time this spring “to learn how to be a pro,” getting comfortable with the scheme and playbook now so that he can focus on competing for his depth chart spot in the summer. Luckily for Pickett, he has a bit of a leg up in terms of the language of the playbook with some familiarity from the time Canada recruited Pickett to Pitt. Pickett didn’t have too many snaps fewer than Trubisky or Rudolph, but his third-string status had him throwing to a very different receiver group. Pickett said he was “trying to be the best pro (he) can be,” calling this spring “100 percent successful.”

Lastly on the roster is rookie seventh-round draft pick Chris Oladokun. Oladokun transferred from South Florida to Samford to South Dakota State throughout his college career, spending that whole time outside of consistent Power 5 football. According to Kaboly, it showed, as Oladokun “looked like a guy who didn’t get many reps and came from a small college.” Oladokun is a project and his dearth of playing time reflected that, with Oladokun pointing out the importance of staying “locked in” mentally. The benefit of Oladokun’s lowly roster status is that he gets plenty of exclusive time working with David Corley, the assistant to quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan. Whether or not Oladokun ever competes for starting snaps in Pittsburgh, his dedicated time with Corley will foster benefits throughout the future of his career.

For now, the spring depth chart reflects the level of experience, just as Tomlin and Canada have intended. Based on the amount of time Trubisky has had with the first-team, it’s hard to imagine anyone else starting behind center in Week 1 at Cincinnati. Though, with Rudolph coming into his own and the talented rookie, Pickett, hot on their heels, it’s anyone’s guess who the Bengals will face in their season opener.

Steelers Likely To Retain OC Matt Canada

While the search for a new quarterback, and, eventually general manager, are the dominant storylines in Pittsburgh for this offseason, news has come out with significant implications for the team’s offense. In his end-of-season press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin stated that offensive coordinator Matt Canada will likely return in 2022. 

When asked about the offense’s struggles this season, Tomlin expressed confidence in Canada, saying “I’m optimistic about Matt and what he’s capable of doing” (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala). While he added, “I acknowledge we took a step back [on offense]. There’s some obvious tangible reasons why that occurred”, along with an intention to get better on that side of the ball, he is comfortable with giving Canada a second season at the helm.

Mark Kaboly of the Athletic notes that Canada took over as OC this year knowing the team’s emphasis had been placed on an improved running game. With major changes to the playbook, a vastly different offensive line and the drafting of Najee Harris, the team saw a minor uptick in production on the ground. Still, the Steelers ranked 29th in the league with an average of only 93 rushing yards per game.

As for the other elements of the offense, a notable regression took place across the board. The team’s averages in at least 10 major categories saw declines of varying degrees compared to the 2020 campaign. Perhaps the most significant one was the drop in points per game from 26 down to 20.2 – something which contributed to a total of 16 fewer offensive touchdowns being scored than last year, despite there being a 17th game this season.

The unit’s performance in the playoff loss to the Chiefs, which is widely expected to end up being QB Ben Roethlisberger‘s final NFL game, proved the need for drastic improvement going forward. That fact wasn’t lost on Tomlin, who also said, “I am not acknowledging satisfaction with any component of what we did”. He still used the word “attractive”, though, to describe the 50-year-old’s scheme, which he demonstrated in a successful college coaching career and helped him earn the OC role after one season serving as the Steelers’ QB coach.

Regardless of who the starting quarterback is for the Steelers in 2022, then, they will at least have an offensive coordinator with a year of experience and a vote of confidence working with them.

Coaching Notes: Chargers, Steelers, Ravens, Taylor, Marrone

After adding Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator and Renaldo Hill as defensive coordinator, Brandon Staley has found the coach who will lead his special teams unit. The Chargers announced this evening that they’ve hired Derius Swinton as their special teams coordinator.

The 35-year-old has made his way up the coaching ranks over the past decade-plus, spending time with the Rams, Chiefs, Broncos, Bears, 49ers, Lions, and Cardinals. He served as San Francisco’s special teams coordinator in 2016, and he helped the 49ers improve their kickoff return average by nearly six yards that season.

We’ve already heard of some other additions to the Chargers’ coaching staff. The team added Joe Barry as their defensive passing game coordinator, and they’ve hired Frank Smith to be their new offensive line coach and run game coordinator.

Let’s check out some more coaching notes…

  • Today, the Steelers officially announced the promotion of Matt Canada to offensive coordinator. Canada served as quarterbacks coach during the 2020 season, and Ben Roethlisberger finished with one of the lowest interception rates (1.6) and sack totals (13) of his career. As Teresa Varley of Steelers.com points out, Canada helped implement jet sweeps and pre-snap motions to the Steelers’ offense.
  • The Ravens have added D’Anton Lynn as their new defensive backs coach, per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley (via Twitter). The 31-year-old previously spent time on the Jets, Bills, Chargers, and Texans coaching staff, and he earned a promotion to Houston’s defensive backs coach for the 2020 campaign.
  • Press Taylor won’t be back in Philly next season. Mike Kaye of NJ.com reports (via Twitter) that the Eagles won’t be retaining their quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator. The 33-year-old had been with the organization since the 2013 season, and after serving as QBs coach in 2018 and 2019, he took on the additional role of passing game coordinator in 2020. The Eagles passing game was dreadful this past season, ranking either 31st or 32nd in the NFL in passer rating, completion percentage, yards per attempt, and interceptions.
  • Doug Marrone is joining the Alabama coaching staff as offensive line coach, per a team announcement. Marrone, of course, spent the past four seasons as the Jaguars head coach, including a 2017 campaign that saw him make the AFC Championship. The 56-year-old has plenty of familiarity with new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, as the two coaches worked alongside each other during their stints with Georgia Tech back in the 1990s.

Steelers To Interview Pep Hamilton For OC

We heard last week that the Steelers were expected to promote Matt Canada to offensive coordinator to replace Randy Fichtner, but that is not a done deal just yet. As veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson was first to report (via Twitter), Pittsburgh requested an interview with Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton for its OC position, and Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted that the Steelers will meet with Hamilton today.

This jibes with a recent report from Dulac, whose sources indicated that Canada was a “candidate” for the OC gig but that nothing had been finalized. Obviously, the Steelers are still in search mode, which means that Hue Jackson is presumably still in the running as well.

Hamilton certainly has a more extensive NFL resume than Canada, who was in the college game for his entire career except 2020, when he joined the Steelers as their QB coach. Hamilton, meanwhile, served as the Colts’ OC from 2013-15, and he has also had stops with the Jets, 49ers, Bears, and Browns.

After two years working under Jim Harbaugh as the University of Michigan’s assistant head coach/passing game coordinator, and after an ill-fated gig as the head coach and GM of the XFL’s DC Defenders, the 46-year-old Hamilton rejoined the NFL ranks in 2020, when he hooked on with the Chargers. The success of rookie QB Justin Herbert has helped Hamilton boost his stock, as he is also a candidate for the Dolphins’ OC position.

If he joins the Steelers, Hamilton will be tasked with getting more out of a unit that finished 25th in the league in total offense in 2020 despite the presence of some highly-talented weapons. He will also try to develop the games of potential Ben Roethlisberger heirs Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.

Steelers To Promote Matt Canada To OC

For the second time in four offseasons, the Steelers are preparing to promote their quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Matt Canada is expected to replace Randy Fichtner in that role, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report (on Twitter).

A career college coach until last season, Canada interviewed for the Dolphins’ OC position this week. But the Steelers evidently liked what they saw in Canada’s first year as their QBs coach.

While this is nominally the same as the Steelers promoting Fichtner to replace Todd Haley in 2018, Canada has only been with the franchise a year. Fichtner had worked with the team throughout Mike Tomlin‘s tenure. This promotion decision will involve a new voice rising to the top of Pittsburgh’s offensive staff.

Prior to joining the Steelers last year, Canada enjoyed a nomadic career at the college level. Although the 48-year-old coach became Maryland’s interim HC in 2018, Canada served as offensive coordinator at eight schools between the 1997 and 2017 seasons — including LSU, Wisconsin and North Carolina State.

Despite the Steelers’ 11-0 start, they deteriorated quickly. Pittsburgh’s run game became a stunning nonfactor down the stretch, and the offense overall ended up 24th in total yardage by season’s end. The Steelers committed five turnovers in their opening-round loss to the Browns, and they parted ways with Fichtner this week. With Ben Roethlisberger‘s future uncertain and multiple longtime starters due for free agency, the Steelers will turn to Canada in an attempt to get their offense back on track.

Six OC Candidates Emerge For Dolphins

The Dolphins are moving quickly on their third offensive coordinator search in three years. They have identified six candidates to succeed Chan Gailey, and some will be interviewing for the position.

Steelers quarterbacks coach Matt Canada interviewed for the post Thursday, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The team has also identified Chargers QBs coach Pep Hamilton and 49ers run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel as OC options, according to ESPN.com’s Cameron Wolfe, who adds Dolphin position coaches Eric Studesville and George Godsey will be considered as well (Twitter link).

Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott also emerged on Miami’s radar, but veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson reports (via Twitter) the college assistant has opted against making a move to the pros at this time. The Titans also reached out to Elliott about their OC job, which Arthur Smith may well vacate soon given his interview frequency thus far, but Dabo Swinney‘s top offensive assistant will stay put in South Carolina.

Of this group, only Hamilton and Godsey have been NFL OCs previously. Hamilton spent three years in that role, serving as Colts OC from 2013-15. Godsey became the Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach during the season, Wolfe tweets. He served as Bill O’Brien‘s OC in Houston from 2015-16 but has been a position coach since. Hamilton is coming off a notable year, with Justin Herbert developing from a player expected to sit behind Tyrod Taylor for a while into an Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner.

McDaniel has worked with Kyle Shanahan with multiple teams; the 49ers assistant also popped up on the radar during the Browns’ most recent HC search. Studesville has been with the Dolphins in each of Brian Flores‘ two seasons at the helm. He served as Broncos interim HC in 2010 and was retained by multiple Denver HCs to stay on as running backs coach, a title he currently holds in Miami.

Canada spent more than two decades as a college coach before making the move to the Steelers last year. From 2003-18, Canada served as offensive coordinator at eight colleges — including LSU, Wisconsin and Maryland.

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Conner, Steelers

We learned that Ravens tight end Mark Andrews was the latest member of Baltimore’s organization to test positive for COVID-19 in yesterday’s round, and there apparently were more this morning. There were multiple player/staff positives in Sunday’s round of testing, a source told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. At least one of those positives was receiver Willie Snead, Jamison Hensley of The Athletic tweets. As he notes, Snead is the seventh offensive starter to test positive, and there have now been eight consecutive days with a positive test within the team.

Florio writes that it’s believed the league will opine these positives are a result of the “tail end” of the outbreak, and that Tuesday’s game against the Steelers is still on for now. Meanwhile the Ravens are planning on convening at their facility tonight in order to condition and then have a walkthrough tomorrow, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports tweets. He notes that all work will be done on outdoor fields and players won’t be allowed inside the locker room.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • While the Ravens have obviously had it worse, the Steelers have also had their fair share of COVID-19 issues as they approach Tuesday night. Pittsburgh will be without both special teams coordinator Danny Smith and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada due to illnesses, Brooke Pryor of ESPN tweets. Canada plays a pretty large role in the offensive game-planning, so that’s a significant loss.
  • Pivoting away from COVID news for a moment, the Steelers have some big question marks to address this offseason. One of those is what to do with running back James Conner, who is set to be a free agent. His production has declined since his breakout 2018 campaign, and he’s also dealt with frequent nagging injuries. With those issues, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes that he “can’t imagine” Conner getting brought back on anything more than a one-year, prove-it deal. Kaboly thinks the team is grooming Benny Snell to potentially take over for Conner. The Pittsburgh product recently tested positive for COVID-19 himself, which obviously won’t help with his next contract. He’s shown flashes of being a potential featured back, and it’ll be very interesting to see what the market for him looks like. It’s very possible he’s not back with the Steelers in 2021.