Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gets it. He always has, he always will. It’s one of the reasons he’s never had a losing season, and why he’s so respected by his peers.
He knows what this game is about. It’s a business, one that requires the customers to be sufficiently motivated to devote their money, time, and emotion to the team. And that will sometimes cause fans to be upset when things aren’t going well.
On Monday night, things definitely weren’t going well for the Pittsburgh offense. I was there. The offense under coordinator Matt Canada was sluggish. It had no rhythm, no flow. There was no overriding plan to do one thing early in order to set up something else late.
Running back Najee Harris lacked burst. He couldn’t beat defenders to the edge, but they kept running him to the edge. Consecutive long runs in the second half should have gone even farther than they did.
Receiver George Pickens continued to face single coverage, and it took a long time before quarterback Kenny Pickett looked Pickens’s way early in the progression. After a 71-yard catch and run for a score, it was as if Canada finally remembered what he has.
It still wasn’t enough. By the fourth quarter, fans were loudly chanting, “Fire Canada.”
Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the display during a day-after press conference.
“I appreciate their passion,” Tomlin said. “I share their passion. We all do. Man, we love our fans, man. They inspire us. They challenge us. It’s an awesome relationship. Man, we don’t run from challenges, we run to challenges. This is the sport-entertainment business. It is our job to win and thus entertain them. And so we don’t begrudge them for that. We want them to be fat and sassy and spoiled. It is our job.”
That job entails scheming plays to make the most out of their great players. The Steelers should make Pickens the centerpiece of the passing game. Throw and throw and throw and throw it to him until he’s constantly double covered. That will open up the rest of the offense, for everyone else.
It’s not easy, but it’s also not rocket science. Sometimes, it gets overly complicated. For Canada, the mandate should be straightforward.
Use Pickens. Get the ball in his hands, any which way. Force opposing defensive coordinators to spend so much time trying to figure out how to stop him that they aren’t ready to stop the rest of the offense.
It’s the best way to get the most out of the offense. It’s also the best way to get the fans sufficiently fat, sassy, and spoiled that they aren’t clamoring for Canada to be canned.
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