Firing OC Matt Canada gives Steelers chance at a fresh start | News, Sports, Jobs

Firing OC Matt Canada gives Steelers chance at a fresh start | News, Sports, Jobs

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) runs out of the pocket against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

PITTSBURGH — Fifteen minutes. That’s how long the Pittsburgh Steelers spent in a team meeting talking about former offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s abrupt firing.

No time to do a full autopsy on what went wrong and how Canada’s two-plus year tenure ended with a somewhat out-of-the-blue statement from coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday morning.

Not when there’s still a season to salvage. Not when the Steelers (6-4) believe there is still so much at stake.

By Wednesday afternoon, Pittsburgh’s new and somewhat unorthodox paradigm was in place, though it may take a bit — a very small bit — of time to get a feel for how it’s going to work with running backs coach Eddie Faulkner promoted to interim offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan calling the plays on Sunday in Cincinnati (5-5).

“We’re kind of going through it right now, figuring it out,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said, who made it a point to call the first day of the Faulker-Sullivan collaboration “smooth.”

Faulker certainly looked comfortable during warmups, nodding his head as hip-hop music blared through the speakers in Pittsburgh’s indoor practice facility while Sullivan checked in on multiple position groups.

Still, the absence of Canada and his ever-present wide-brimmed hat was noticeable. And, for the quarterback Canada spent the past 18 months mentoring, lamentable.

“You hate to see it,” Pickett said. “You don’t want to see one of your coaches lose their job.”

While Canada had become a point of derision among the fan base and a frequent target on social media as the Steelers struggled to generate points and yards with any sense of regularity, the players know on some base level a significant portion of the blame for Pittsburgh’s issues moving the ball and Canada’s dismissal falls on them.

“We’ve all got to be better,” said Pickett. “I called (Canada) and wished him well. We had a good conversation. But you’ve got to bounce back quickly and be ready to go.”

While there are new voices putting together the game plan, there will not be a massive overhaul in scheme, terminology or playing time for an offense that ranks 28th in points and yards and has been outgained every single week.

All of that will have to come in the offseason, when a permanent search for Canada’s replacement will begin.

For now, the Steelers understand it will take all of them to fix what’s become so obviously broken.

“It’s not going to be one specific individual or one specific thing that’s going to change,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “It’s going to take us all as a collective to do that.”

While Canada’s ouster was the first in-season head coach or coordinator move by the Steelers in more than 80 years, Robinson has a little history with turbulence. He was in his third year in Jacksonville in 2016 when the Jaguars fired Greg Olsen and replaced him with Nathanial Hackett in late October. Things didn’t exactly improve. Jacksonville went 1-8 to finish the year, scoring more than 22 points just once.

Robinson believes a change can provide a spark, but knows from experience that it “doesn’t just happen.”

“It’s about going out there for myself and being able to put myself and the group in the best possible situation by doing what is asked of me,” Robinson said.

Something that’s been an issue of late. Pickett and wide receiver Diontae Johnson had trouble figuring out what the other was doing in last Sunday’s 13-10 loss to Cleveland, with Pickett throwing the ball to places Johnson either was or wasn’t supposed to be, depending on your viewpoint.

Both Pickett and Johnson said they have ironed things out. Maybe, but with the cloud of negativity that hovered during the latter stages of Canada’s tenure now gone, the focus over the next two months will be centered on Pickett’s development.

The 2022 first-round pick who Tomlin expected to “kill it” this season instead has just six touchdown passes in 10 games and threw for all of 106 yards against the Browns. Those numbers aren’t sustainable for a team that has a defense good enough to play into late January, and Pickett knows it.

“You just want consistency,” Pickett said. “That’s what I’m working to be better at, just more consistent. I think if we’re more consistent we’ll be a much better offense.”

Tomlin remains steadfast in his belief in Pickett, pointing to Pickett’s work ethic as proof that eventually, things will click.

“There’s such a thing as football justice, man those guys usually get what they’re looking for,” Tomlin said. “And so, that’s why I remain consistently optimistic about the trajectory of his growth and development.”

That trajectory needs to stop looking like a flat line and start curling upward. Too often under Canada, it resembled a wayward that stock investors couldn’t seem to figure out. And Pittsburgh’s offense often sputtered as a result.

Canada’s removal offers the Steelers an opportunity for a welcome fresh start. The attention has shifted from who is calling the plays to who is — or who is not — making them. And the players trying to pick up the pieces know it.

“I think everyone’s putting everything into this thing,” Pickett said. “You know, we’ve just got to go out there and do it.”

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