On Friday’s episode of the Zach Gelb Show, CBS Sports Radio host Zach Gelb said that Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada should be fired if the offense failed to outscore a Cleveland Browns team starting rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Well, lo and behold, the Steelers lost the game 13-10 and the offense looked absolutely dreadful outside of RB Jaylen Warren.
So when Gelb kicked off the Monday episode of his show, it should surprise absolutely no one that he called again for Canada’s firing. However, he aimed a large amount of his commentary at Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin.
“You need to do something,” Gelb said. “Because doing nothing makes absolutely, positively zero sense, and it’s the definition, quite frankly, of jackassery. Even though Mike Tomlin is a really good coach, and I’m not sitting here advocating for Mike Tomlin to be fired… You still have to find a way to meet the standard.”
The topic of “The Standard” is a big one around the Steelers and Tomlin. However, if you’re new to the team, you’d probably think that the standard is simply non-losing seasons. While Tomlin’s streak of seasons without a losing record is absolutely incredible and should be celebrated, this is Pittsburgh. The expectation is contention for the Super Bowl and capturing more Lombardi trophies, not just finishing seasons at .500 or above.
Gelb contends that the offense is what is holding the Steelers back, and there is no argument against that. After Sunday’s loss, Pittsburgh’s defense averages 19.5 points per game allowed, the seventh-best mark in the league. The team averages 16.6 points per game which is 28th in the league. The numbers get worse when you realize that two of the touchdowns that went into the overall figures were scored by the defense.
However, the organization is known for being patient and loyal while giving the head coaches (only three since 1969!) a lot of control and leeway. It’s simultaneously why Gelb says that it’s all up to Tomlin while expecting nothing to really happen.
“It’s on Mike Tomlin, who is really the CEO of the Steelers right now,” Gelb said. He needs to make the change. I said this on Friday and I’ll say it again: I don’t expect any change to occur, but it doesn’t mean I need to sit here and be silent… We need to hold Mike Tomlin accountable because the Steelers used to be this proud, successful, winning organization.”
Gelb goes further in on Tomlin as the one who is ultimately responsible for the situation. It’s evident that Gelb is a Tomlin supporter, but Tomlin is the one who has both the power and the responsibility for what goes on with the Steelers.
“What are you doing to try to put yourself in a better position?” Gelb asked. “That’s my problem with Mike Tomlin right now. If it’s loyalty, if it’s stubbornness, if it’s stupidity, whatever it is, or maybe Choice D, all the above, it’s gotta change… If Mike Tomlin is serious about winning, if Mike Tomlin wants to win a playoff game which he hasn’t done since 2016, Mike Tomlin wants to get the Steelers back to winning playoff games and winning a Super Bowl, he’s got to go back to the drawing board this offseason. You need a new offensive coordinator, and next year, you need a new quarterback. Because you have a championship defense, but you have the furthest thing from a championship offense.”
The worst part of this is that Canada actually had an answer on Sunday but failed to use that answer at the end of the game. As I said earlier, Warren had himself a day against Cleveland. Warren was part of the third-straight game where the Steelers rushed for over 160 yards. He had nine carries for 129 yards (74 of them did come on a single touchdown carry) while also contributing three catches for 16 yards.
However, when Pittsburgh got the ball back with 1:42 to play at their own 30-yard line in a tie game, Warren did not touch the ball. In fact, his last touch of the game came on the previous drive with the Steelers facing a 3rd-and-15 from the Cleveland 45. He got a quick pass from QB Kenny Pickett that only gained two yards. That was after posting three plays on the previous drive that covered over 10 yards and helped set up the game-tying field goal.
When it’s crunch time and an offensive coordinator doesn’t look to the player who was performing the best up to that point, it doesn’t look good. Jaylen Warren had a career day, averaging 12.1 yards per touch with 145 yards from scrimmage plus the aforementioned touchdown.
For him to see so little involvement with the game on the line late could be viewed as a fireable offense. Then you can factor in that Canada called three straight passing plays with under two minutes to go with a quarterback who had only completed 15 passes for 106 yards and had already been sacked three times. It never gave the offense a chance to get started on a potential game-winning drive and instead gave Cleveland a chance at the same since the three passes only ran 14 seconds off the clock.
Yet Gelb, like most people, believes that nothing will change before the end of the season. Tomlin and the Steelers will point to the 6-4 record and still being in the thick of the playoff race as enough reason to keep everything together.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh’s defense and the fans, that means sticking with a play-caller who isn’t bringing the second-year quarterback along. Pickett’s completion percentage is down two and a half percentage points from his rookie season. He’s throwing for 12.7 yards per game less, and he was only throwing for almost exactly 185 yards per game as a rookie.
Yes, Pickett has seen a slight uptick in his touchdown percentage from 1.8 to 2.1 percent. He’s also turning over the ball much less. However, no one is calling 2023 a successful year for him. The Steelers have won thanks to their defense, and Sunday was a new low for Pickett and the passing game. He posted his second-lowest completion percentage of the season and he threw for his lowest number of yards, not including the Jacksonville Jaguars game where he only played a half. He also only averaged 3.8 yards per attempt.
So what’s next? As Gelb asked, what is Tomlin doing to put himself and his team in a better position? The results on the field for the offense seem to say not a whole lot. So something needs to change, but it appears that isn’t likely until the offseason. Then we can kiss another season of the careers of T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Cam Heyward goodbye.
Of, and for the record, the definition of jackassery is foolishness or stupidity. Hard to argue with Gelb’s eloquent if not colorful characterization of the situation.