When Randy Fichtner got the Steelers offensive coordinator job most pointed to his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger. Fichtner had spent 2010-2017 as the team’s quarterback’s coach and Roethlisberger is a fan of continuity. It is new quarterbacks, Matt Canada however, who is making big changes in Pittsburgh.
When Todd Haley left after the 2017 season there wasn’t much talk about a search for an offensive coordinator. Head coach Mike Tomlin gave the job to Fichtner and the team continued putting up big numbers. Much of that offensive output was due to Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Juju Smith-Schuster.
Without Brown and with Roethlisberger injured, last season was a mess offensively. The Steelers ran very few sets to confuse defenses. Instead, it was the same offense without the same weapons. Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges did the best they could to fill in, but it wasn’t enough.
This season has been different. Sure, the Steelers have Roethlisberger back under center and that makes a huge difference. Even so, they are showing new wrinkles to the offense that weren’t seen under Haley or Fichtner previously. These same wrinkles were seen under Matt Canada at both the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Maryland.
Matt Canda’s Pre-Snap Motion on Offense
Pre-snap motion is huge for offenses. It is used at every level and forces defenses to read and react to what is going on. If the defense isn’t quick enough to react they can get beat for a big play. Conversely, if they react too much to the motion and it was all a fake they can leave themselves open elsewhere.
Look at this jet sweep against the Browns from Sunday:
.@ChaseClaypool's second rushing touchdown of the season!
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 18, 2020
As a High School football coach, I love the jet sweep. It gets one of your best, and fastest, offensive playmakers the ball when they are already moving at full-speed. It’s an absolute pain of a play to defend because of this.
In this play, Claypool is at full speed when he receives the handoff. Denzel Ward is in motion at the snap for the Browns, but he never even comes close to shutting the play down. This is the second touchdown for Chase Claypool on a jet sweep this season.
If the Steelers continue to use this play it also opens up other possibilities. If defenses overplay the jet sweep the Steelers can fake this motion and run backside. Don’t be surprised to see a fake jet sweep at the goal line soon, and given Claypool has scored twice on this play don’t be surprised if the defense falls for the fake.
Reading off of Pre-Snap Motion
Another major factor in pre-snap motion is reading the defense. Ben Roethlisberger is able to read the defense while these motions are happening. With backs and receivers moving around the formation he can diagnose if the defense is playing man or zone coverage, which in turn helps him to decide where to throw the ball.
Long gone are the days of the run-run-pass punt. Here to stay, at least we hope, are the days of quality offensive game plans and new wrinkles to consistently keep defenses guessing.
Matt Canada may not be the biggest name in Pittsburgh, but through the first 5 games of the 2020 season, he is far and away my Steelers offensive MVP.