Overreactions from Steelers Nation: Fire everyone after one game

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation” a weekly column where I poke fun at fans, reporters, and so-called experts while trying to figure out if some of these hot takes are real – or just for attention.

I feel as if I write at least one of these articles every year. Scratch that: I believe I write one of every week, at least following a Steelers loss, that is. The general public wants to fire everyone associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, here we are following a rough opening to the Pittsburgh’s 2023 season and fans (lightly stated) are already up in arms about the Steelers 30-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

I’ve seen everything from the group, which is about as focused as my cat with a laser pointer. They want coaches fired all the way up to Art Rooney II to sell the team. Fire everyone!

But that’s not only improbable but also highly illogical, especially following one week of football. Here’s who falls into the category of getting the axe and why it’s not wise to put them on the chopping block just yet.

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Matt Canada

For as long as I’ve covered the team, and then some, getting rid of the current offensive coordinator has been in vogue. When I started covering the Steelers I had to defend Todd Haley. “Fire Haley!” would actually trend on what was then known as Twitter. Now looking back, some fans wish they hadn’t. Ditto for Bruce Arians. (Though I have a harder time defending Ben Roethlisberger getting whacked like a pinata under his system!)

Randy Fichtner was another scapegoat and everyone wanted a fresh, new mind, hopefully borrowing from the college game. Enter Matt Canada. Now they want that guy gone too… and they wanted him gone almost instantly, which is unfair to the current Steelers OC, though I’ll admit the clock is ticking on his tenure.

Most will say Sunday’s offense, or lack thereof, was more of the same with Canada. He hasn’t produced anything with multiple quarterbacks in his system. However, I have to defend that by stating Canada received a broken offense when he started.

Fans soon forget that the Steelers ranked dead last in running the football the year before Canada took the reigns from Fichtner. He also inherited retirement era Big Ben, who wasn’t mobile and had one of his lowest season QB ratings in his career. That’s no knock on Ben, but he was also just a year removed from returning from a major injury and also 39-years-old.

Big Ben wasn’t a fit for Canada’s schemes, but neither was Mitchell Trubisky – who I consistently pointed out as relying on checkdowns and being unable to see the middle of the field.

Once Kenny Pickett entered the lineup and got some time to warmup through the season, the Steelers turned things around from the bye week to improve to 7-2 in their final games, including nearly 21 points-per-game scored versus 15 before the break.

That said, I don’t feel as if Canada is to blame for the 49ers loss, at least not solely. With the Steelers getting behind early in the game, what recourse did the team have other than to throw out whatever game script they drummed up and lean on passing the ball to catch up?

It’s not as if they’d establish running the ball down twenty points… and unfortunately, passing the ball didn’t work much either…

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Kenny Pickett

The Steelers second-year quarterback is catching a lot of flack postgame for a lackluster performance.

To those eyeballing the situation, especially in-stadium, Pickett’s passes were off target for most of the day. Some are speculating, and it was even asked during Mike Tomlin’s Tuesday press conference, if there was any thought that Pickett suffered a blow to the head when he crashed into the ground on a sack during the offense’s third play of the game.

Every single throw following that sack appeared to sail high, low, or behind intended receivers – who otherwise appeared to be open. Pickett also forced the ball into double coverage, and finished the day with two interceptions.

That’s why it’s hard to place blame on Matt Canada, because the players appeared to be in position, but couldn’t execute. They couldn’t execute, because it all begins with the quarterback, who didn’t have the best of days.

I had also posed the question on our SCU Podcast about Kenny Pickett wearing a helmet visor, as he did last season when similar hits to his head (and fingers to his eyes) were occurring. Perhaps it’d be an idea to opt for prescription glasses made with sports-oriented frames like the Oakley Flak or M-Frame, as that brand has close ties to the NFL as a supplier of helmet visors since the 2019 season and has a reputation for extreme sports glasses.

Regardless, Pickett will recover, but it was odd that he looked incredibly off compared to his play through training camp and the preseason. Yet, one poor game isn’t any reason to bench him or consider the young QB a “bust”.

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Mike Tomlin

Anytime there’s a loss someone wants to blame Tomlin.

Where are these same folks at in blaming their other “better” coaches who suffered Week 1 losses, such as Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Sean Payton or Pete Carroll? How about Sean McDermott or Brian Daboll? And I could go on, but I’ll just be told “that’s not the Steelers” in a dismissive fashion that supports firing Tomlin.

Was his team underprepared? They looked shell-shocked to say the least, against a team that was just in the NFC Championship game to end last season.

And that’s where I’ve been looking at for answers. September always seems to be an extension of preseason football, since teams play a large risk/reward gamble by putting their prized players on the field in games that don’t matter. When the games do matter, those players look ill prepared to play.

However, the NFL has also stacked the Steelers up with some tall orders for Week 1 games in the last several years. Not only the 49ers coming off of the NFC title game, but last year’s opener was a brutal overtime divisional clash on the road with Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati. Similarly, they traveled to Buffalo in 2021 to face a Bills team fresh off an AFC Championship game appearance and 2019 they went to New England to face the reigning Super Bowl champion Patriots.

I’m not sure what Rooney and company did to PO the schedule makers, but most of those games have had rough outcomes, even in victory. The Steelers lost T.J. Watt for half of a season against the Bengals and it set the tone for half of 2022. Even a trip to the lowly New York Giants saw Pittsburgh lose their starting offensive tackle, Zach Banner, to the same MetLife Stadium turf that took Aaron Rodgers’ season away on Monday.

It’s been a brutal series of openers for the Steelers, coaching notwithstanding.

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Defense & Special Teams

Finally, as if there wasn’t enough to complain about, I don’t see enough complaints about defense or special teams.

Pressley Harvin III’s days as the Steelers starting punter have to be numbered, one would think? Tomlin stated displeasure with his punter yet again, but how many times can he play below the line and retain his job?

The defense, which features an assortment of weapons and the most depth its had in years, still failed to contain a potent run game. Luckily this was a non-conference opponent, but what happens when Cleveland and Baltimore, which lean heavily on ground-based attacks, come to town?

If the result is similar, the old “Fire Keith Butler” heads should turn toward Teryl Austin, who took Butler’s place as defensive coordinator last season but has had the same struggles in stopping opposing offenses.

I was willing to give Austin the same benefit of the doubt as Canada, in that time was needed to rebuild talent on his side of the ball, but his seat is getting just as warm if things don’t improve soon.

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