Column | Fans shouldn’t pin Steelers’ offensive struggles on Canada and Trubisky


AP Photo/David Richard

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) is sacked by Cleveland Browns’ Jacob Phillips (50) and Myles Garrett (95) during the second half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Thursday, Sept. 22.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

After falling to a 1-2 start on Thursday, Steelers fans quickly pointed their fingers at quarterback Mitch Trubisky and offensive coordinator Matt Canada for the offensive struggles.

But there isn’t any need to pick a side. Both have played a role in causing Pittsburgh’s offense to be downright anemic through three games.

Trubisky is averaging 5.5 yards per pass attempt through three games — the worst mark in the NFL last season was six yards. Canada’s offense has scored just four touchdowns on 34 drives this season — that would have been the worst rate in the NFL last season. Both should share blame for the offense’s woes up to this point. But it shouldn’t stop there. 

It’s more than fair to question head coach Mike Tomlin for his recent hires at offensive coordinator. Randy Fitchner — who joined the Steelers in Tomlin’s first year as head coach back in 2007 — became offensive coordinator in 2018. Fitchner’s tenure got off to a hot start, leading the Steelers to the No. 4 offense in football in his first season, before finishing at No. 30 and No. 24 in his final two years with the team. 

After the Steelers fired Fitchner last offseason, the Steelers opted to hire from within and promote Canada from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. But Canada’s background as a coordinator at the collegiate level shows why he’s in over his head.

Canada led Pitt to one of its best offensive seasons in program history in 2016. The Panthers put up 40.9 points per game in the 2016 season, and had a few marquee wins over Clemson and Penn State. But Canada lasted just one season at Pitt before taking the same position at LSU.

Canada saw a steep decline in production at LSU, finishing No. 76 in total offense. Canada then moved on to Maryland to take another stab at serving as an offensive coordinator. Canada abruptly became the interim head coach amid a scandal and finished almost dead last in offense with the Terps. 

Nothing about Canada’s resume screams that he is qualified to be an NFL offensive coordinator.

The Steelers have scored just four first quarter touchdowns in their past 20 games. Their game plan this season has been to play conservative on the offensive side of the ball and expect their defense to win games for them. While that worked out in week one against Cincinnati, it hasn’t since.

Pittsburgh’s defense looked poor defending the run in week three, but it’s hard to place a lot of blame on them for the loss. 

The Steelers defense has played 231 snaps over the course of three games. They are on pace for more than 1,300 snaps played this season. The Steelers time of possession through their first three games is the second lowest in team history dating back to 1983. The defense is getting worn down because of the offense’s inability to sustain drives. 

This is partly due to the lack of trust Canada has in his offense. Trubisky isn’t allowed to call audibles on every play in his offense. While they threw the ball down the field more against Cleveland, he also doesn’t trust him to take many deep shots.

But the blame doesn’t fall squarely on Canada’s shoulders. While his route concepts haven’t been great, Trubisky hasn’t hit open receivers on multiple occasions. He isn’t going through his progressions and is too quick to check the ball down to his running backs. 

It’s year six for Trubisky in the NFL. At this point, you know what you are going to get out of him. He’s a very mediocre quarterback. He’s done some good things, but he’s also missing simple reads and taking some bad sacks. 

Those are the same things that led to his undoing in Chicago.

While Trubisky isn’t the biggest problem on the team, he absolutely shoulders some blame for how inept the offense has been. 

Tomlin seems content to continue to trot Trubisky out there as his starter but after Sunday’s game against the Jets, things could get ugly quickly. It’s hard to see any wins against Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Miami or Philadelphia, especially with reigning Defensive Player of the Year, TJ Watt, sidelined for another month or so.

The chants for Kenny Pickett are likely going to get louder and louder, but the blame doesn’t fall on any one person. It’s been a collective failure.