NFL Analysis


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How Far Can Pittsburgh Steelers' New-Look Offense Take Them?

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) throws in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

A new era started in Pittsburgh this past week after the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Throughout his time in Pittsburgh, the Steelers' offense sputtered and could never take the next step forward. Their -0.08 EPA per play ranked 22nd since 2021 and they could not eclipse 400 yards of offense in any game coordinated by Canada.

The New-Look Steelers?

Helping the Quarterback Schematically

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Sullivan
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan reacts on the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The tag team of Eddie Faulkner as the interim OC and Mike Sullivan as the interim play caller now has the opportunity to undo the horror that took place before them. To do so, they must first devise a better plan to allow QB Kenny Pickett, who has done anything but that so far in his career, to flourish.

In his second season, Pickett has been unable to take the second-year leap that long-term starting quarterbacks can make. With Canada as his offensive coordinator this year, Pickett ranked 29th in Passing Total Points per play (0.02), positive pass rate (39 percent), and SIS’ Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR, 74.9) out of 35 quarterbacks with 100 attempts. 

It was very uninspiring, to say the least, but understandable when he was running an offense that used play action only 11 percent of the time (30th), didn’t utilize the middle of the field,  attempting the lowest number of passes in that area, and ranked 23rd in aDOT at 7.3 yards per target.

These are three simple things that the new regime can look to improve upon to get Pickett comfortable and into a better rhythm game to game. 

The Rest of the Offense

The Steelers pass catchers rank ninth in Receiving Total Points per play and have the third-lowest drop rate at 4.3 percent. Certainly, when it comes to producing points, they go as their quarterback goes, but to be ranked in the Top 10 in Total Points is promising, given the passing offense hasn’t been up to par this season.

The returns of WR Diontae Johnson and TE Pat Freiermuth from injury have also been helpful, even though Johnson has struggled with drops and fights in the locker room.

The Steelers' offensive line has improved throughout the season, especially when first-round rookie Broderick Jones was inserted into the starting lineup at right tackle in week 9. From weeks 1-8, the Steelers ranked 26th in pressure rate allowed. That ranking has improved to 11th from Week 9 on.

From a Blocking Total Points per play perspective, the Steelers' offensive line ranked 29th overall and 28th in run blocking. Since Jones was inserted, it ranks eighth and fifth, respectively.

The tackles are allowing the running game to succeed on wider run concepts. Jones and left tackle Dan Moore are in the top 10 among tackles in yards per attempt when running to their gap at 6.2 and 5.6 yards per attempt, respectively. They also rank in the Top 5 at their respective positions in EPA per attempt, with Jones second among right tackles at 0.14. 

A direct result of the improved offensive line is the running game. Yes, this came under Canada’s watch, but the disappointment of the passing game was the driver of his release. Since the Week 6 bye, the Steelers' run game has been night and day, improving drastically in nearly every category.

Weeks 1-5Weeks 6-12
Yards/Attempt3.4 (28th)5.2 (2nd)
EPA/Attempt-0.20 (32nd)-0.01 (7th)
Positive Run %33% (30th)45% (6th)
Hit at Line %57% (32nd)38% (10th)
Stuff %31% (31st)20% (16th)

From a play-calling perspective, the Steelers have increased their gap run rate from 22 to 32 percent after the bye. They are still primarily a zone-running team, but the increased gap run rate has coincided with a boost in production.

From a player perspective, Jaylen Warren has emerged as the big producer at running back. Among running backs with at least 30 attempts since week 6, Warren ranks second in Y/A with 7.1, third in Rushing Total Points per play at 0.25, and third in Boom percentage (rushes over 1 EPA) at 14 percent.

Najee Harris is still getting more carries between the two, but Warren has been more productive, and the calls for him to take more of the workload are well warranted. Warren and Harris are exceptional at breaking tackles and making defenders miss. Warren is first in percentage of broken and missed tackles per rush attempt at 34 percent, and Harris is eighth at 20 percent.

The Outlook Going Forward

So what can we expect going forward?

Well, for starters, in Week 12, the offense eclipsed 400 yards for the first time in two years, outgained their opponent in yardage for the first time all season, ran the highest rate of play action in the league at 29 percent and Pickett accumulated the most EPA through the air he has all season at 9.5. It's not too shabby for Sullivan and Faulkner and the new-look Steelers offense.

What will be imperative is seeing Pickett grow and improve by making things easier for him. With an improved O-line, a very solid running back tandem in Warren and Harris and pass catchers who are getting healthy and can produce when called upon, the stage is set for the Steelers offense to prove that they should be taken seriously as a playoff threat.

This article was written by James Weaver