Canada: Steelers accomplished offensive agenda in opener

LATROBE, Pa. – Back at Saint Vincent College for their final week of training camp here, the Steelers now have actual preseason game tape to go over following their 27-17 win Friday in Tampa over the Buccaneers.

And offensive coordinator Matt Canada was pleased with what he saw from his unit, particularly the first-team offense, which played the opening series of the game.

Second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 6 of 7 passes for 70 yards during a 10-play, 83-yard touchdown drive, converting a pair of third-and-longs along the way while finishing things off with a 33-yard TD pass over the middle to second-year receiver George Pickens.

"Obviously, it was a preseason game and you take that for what it's worth, but I felt like we had an agenda to do some things in that game," Canada said Sunday. "It's game-like and those different things, and how guys play under the lights matters, but there's still an agenda, balls to this guy and certain things. I thought for the most part it was good, with the 1s especially, it was clean. We got done what we wanted to get done."

Pickett attempted passes to five different players during the drive, completing them to four, with Diontae Johnson being the top target. Johnson caught three passes for 32 yards.

"I think we accomplished what we wanted to do – go out there and spread the ball around – get different guys touches," Pickett said Friday night. "Go down there and get a scoring drive so we checked all the boxes, and I think that's what we needed."

Canada was pleased with how Pickett managed that series and is looking forward to building upon that for the team's second preseason game Saturday night at Acrisure Stadium against the Buffalo Bills.

"I thought he did good. Obviously there are some things in there we're going to critique, but for the small sample size that we had with that whole group and with Kenny, we achieved what we wanted to do," Canada said.

"He did a great job of getting the ball to the right guy who was open at the time."

Canada remains excited about the team's young offense – five of the team's starters from Friday night are entering their third NFL season or less – and where it might be headed.

The plays called by Canada Friday night weren't anything the Steelers hadn't run before. But he's seeing a different level of execution.

"I think we can be really good. We're going to keep quietly moving forward and doing one thing at a time but consistently getting better," Canada said. "We did all the things we did last year with our 1s, but it was clean, it was sharper. The execution was better. That's the thing we've been talking about for a long time. I'm really excited about where we're at and where we're going."

That includes first-round draft pick Broderick Jones.

The rookie didn't play with the first unit, entering in place of Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle and remaining there the rest of the game. That added up to 50 offensive snaps for Jones in this game.

"We wanted to see him do that," Canada said. "Going against different guys, everybody's got their own moves, little things. The run defense is different. So, we want to speed up that clock as fast as we can within the framework of not being silly. He got a lot of reps. That was certainly an agenda."

Canada also wanted to get second-year receiver Calvin Austin III involved to see a significant amount of playing time.

A fourth-round pick in 2022, Austin missed all of last season, including the entire preseason, with a foot injury.

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The speedy Austin led the Steelers with 23 yards rushing on two attempts and also had two receptions for a team-high 73 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown on a deep shot down the sideline from Mason Rudolph in the third quarter.

"I thought Calvin had a good night. We know what his skillset is," Canada said. "It's very crucial to get Calvin on the field in game situations because he didn't have that last year. We need Calvin to play like a second-year player who didn't have a first year. That's a challenging situation. We were happy with the way he did that."

So, Friday night's game checked off a number of boxes for the Steelers.

And they'll continue to try to check off boxes Saturday night against the Bills. But the key is continuing to move forward as the team readies itself for the regular season opener Sept. 10 against the San Francisco 49ers at Acrisure Stadium.

"The only thing that matters is building enough to be ready for the 49ers," Canada said. "Everything, everyday is how we attack the day. Saturday will be a different night, a different guy we feature, a different combination. All those things matter, but all that really matters is being ready for the opener."

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