Randy Fichtner was the scape goat when the 2020 Steelers collapsed after an 11-0 start. Never mind the fact that the Steelers were gassed going into the playoffs after being forced to play three games in 12 days. Never mind the fact that Bud Dupree had suffered a season-ending injury and the Steelers didn't have an Alex Highsmith on the roster just yet. Never mind the fact that Ben Roethlisberger's arm was tiring in his first year back from major surgery.
None of it mattered to a large vocal majority of Steelers fans, who decided that Fichtner was the main reason for the Steelers' 1-5 finish and early playoff exit after a loss to Cleveland. In a twist of irony, those same fans are now calling for Fichtner's replacement, Matt Canada, to suffer the same fate as his boss two short years later. The Steelers appeased their fans with Fichtner, and they may do it again with Canada.
It was a mistake to let Fichtner go then, and it probably would be a mistake to fire Canada now after just two seasons on the job. Yes, I'm aware of the warranted criticism that has been thrown Canada's way, including Germaine Pratt's Week 13 comments about and reports that Roethlisberger scrapped the game plan late in games during his final season.
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Canada's offense has had its shortcomings, but does that mean a change should made this offseason? Here are three reasons why Canada should get another year in Pittsburgh.
Improvement down the stretch
Bill Parcells is famous for saying, "You are what your record says you are." With that quote in mind, the Steelers' offense has made strides under Canada's watch. Pittsburgh was last in the NFL in rushing and 14th in third down efficiency during Fichtner's final season. The Steelers were 16th in the league in rushing and seventh in third down efficiency in 2022, sizable improvements in two significant areas.
Any Steelers fan will tell you that Pittsburgh's offense was tough to watch during the season's first eight weeks. But the unit improved considerably after Pittsburgh's bye week and was a key contributor to the team's 7-2 finish. The offense scored at least 20 points in five of those games that included 30 points against the defending AFC champions and 28 points in Pittsburgh's season finale against Cleveland.
Canada's offense seemed to find its identity after the bye week. Jaylen Warren's role was increased while leaning more on the running game. The result was a more efficient, mistake-free offense that was still evolving by season's end. This was accomplished despite a relatively young starting lineup that included three four starters in rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, rookie wideout George Pickens and linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole.
More growth with Pickett
It's easy to forget that the Steelers' season started with Pickett third on the depth chart. Pickett got some first-team work during camp and the preseason but didn't get any first-team work during practice during the season's first month.
Given where he started, the growth Pickett made during his rookie season is something to appreciate. It was easy to see Pickett's progress during the season. After coming up short in big moments early, Pickett was Big Ben reincarnated in weighty moments during the season's final weeks. Pickett threw game-winning touchdown passes against Las Vegas and Baltimore while becoming the first rookie quarterback to throw game-winning touchdown passes in the final minute in consecutive weeks.
Pickett obviously deserves a lion's share of the credit, but Canada was the coordinator who oversaw that progress. It should be expected that the Steelers' offense will build off of what it did during the back end of the '22 season with Pickett and Canada entering their first offseason with Pickett as the starting quarterback.
Continuity is critical for any quarterback, especially a young one. Changing coordinators now would likely set Pickett and the offense back in 2023. That alone is worth keeping Canada around for another year, to make sure that a change is necessary before asking a young quarterback to learn an entirely new offense with a new coordinator.
Saying the Steelers need more credibility is like saying Mercedes needs to strengthen its luxury lineup. The Steelers, by virtue of being the NFL's most successful franchise since the merger, are one of the most respected franchises in sports.
That being said, not panicking and allowing Canada to return for a third season would be another feather on Tomlin's already Hall of Fame worthy cap. Instead of giving in to the mob, committing to Canada for another year would show that the Steelers are committed to working through adversity while rewarding the growth that was displayed during Pittsburgh's 7-2 finish. Conversely, changing coordinators yet again would give off the scent of desperation and disarray.
There's been enough tangible growth to give Canada another year. The Steelers can always make a change if things go awry in 2023. But a change now would be a premature one, and a possible costly one.