(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
For some reason, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a hard time calling a run play with Najee Harris when the Steelers are inside the 5-yard line. It's happened in the last two games. When the Steelers got the ball on the Chargers' 3-yard line after Miles Killebrew's blocked punt, Canada called four plays, and not one of them was a handoff to Harris.
Fortunately for the Steelers, there was a defensive pass interference penalty called on Tevaughn Campbell on fourth-and-goal and it gave the offense an automatic first down at the 1-yard line. On first-and-goal, Canada finally called a run play for Harris and the rookie running back leaped into the end zone for a touchdown to cut the Chargers lead to 27-20 with 11:35 remaining in the game.
Even Cris Collinsworth appeared to question Canada's red zone play-calling: "When you have a back like this. He needs opportunities in the red zone. I'll just leave it at that," Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast after Harris' 1-yard touchdown against the Chargers.
On the same possession that Harris ended up scoring, Ben Roethlisberger had an incompletion on third-and-goal and was seen shaking his head following the play. Al Michaels asked Collinsworth during the broadcast if he thought Roethlisberger was upset with Canada, and Collinsworth said he wasn't sure.
Canada also had some suspect play-calling during the first quarter in the red zone. On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Roethlisberger threw a fade pass to Chase Claypool that fell incomplete. That's a pretty low percent play. The Steelers decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal, and Roethlisberger completed a shovel pass to Freiermuth but the play was sniffed out by the Chargers and it was a turnover on downs.
During his weekly press conference yesterday, Mike Tomlin was asked if he had any input in calling plays, and this is how the 15-year head coach responded: “Highly. Whatever unit’s on the field, I’m highly involved in and responsible for.”
Tomlin has said earlier this season that he called some of the plays on defense. The Steelers head coach confirmed he will do so on offense. Saying he does more than just suggest plays.
Tomlin was also asked if he made an input to Canada to go to a heavy package and run the ball up the gut with Harris on first-and-goal that ended up being a touchdown.
“I won't peel back the curtain and talk about the division of labor,” Tomlin said. “I'm ultimately responsible for everything that we do. While at the same time, I want to give credit to all parties involved, coaches and players. We’re a collective.”
It'll be interesting to see if Canada is more willing to hand the ball off to Harris inside the 5-yard line in the future, as it was mind-boggling how he didn't the last two games. It appears that Canada is just overcomplicating things.