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Canada happy where offense is heading into regular season

Five touchdowns in five possessions from four different players. A perfect passer rating for second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. Every eligible receiver getting the football at various times and showcasing their ability.

There was a lot to like from the performance of the Steelers' first-team offense in the preseason, which the Steelers completed Thursday night with a 24-0 rout of the Atlanta Falcons to finish 3-0.

"That's what you want to happen, but it's nothing until we've done it when it counts," cautioned Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada Saturday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "I mean, I think there's positives in going out and doing what we should do doing what we've done in practice.

"We're so happy with where we are. We are all happy with the execution, the urgency the guys have shown, you know, happy with a lot of things we've done, but none of that really matters until a couple of weeks from now."

A couple of weeks from now is when the Steelers will go from being a team that was 3-0 in the preseason, averaging 11.3 yards per offensive play with the first unit on the field, posting five plays of 25 or more yards and seeing Pickett average 13.2 yards per pass attempt, to one that is 0-0 and hosting the San Francisco 49ers to open the regular season.

Taking what were the positives out of a preseason and transitioning those to the regular season is the next task that awaits. San Francisco was the NFL's top-rated defense in 2022 in terms of yards and points allowed, presenting a big challenge.

But Canada now has a good feel for where his team is at in that process and what he and his staff will need to do to have the Steelers prepared for that challenge.

"I'm happy with where we are, but I probably felt like a year ago we felt like we were on the right track," Canada said. "You're always working at it. I do think we're better. We're more experienced. We have an identity amongst our team. 

"We know on a team who we are, and I think Kenny's being the quarterback and having all the reps and the timing and all those things."

The Steelers are in a better place heading into this season than they were a year ago at this time when they stumbled out of the gate and averaged just over two touchdowns per game during a 2-6 start.

The big question a year ago as the regular season approached was whether Pickett would be second or third on the team's depth chart behind then-starter Mitch Trubisky. There also were plenty of questions regarding the status of a rebuilt offensive line.

Now, Pickett is firmly entrenched as the team's starting quarterback, while the line made steady improvement over the course of the 2022 season and then added guard Isaac Seumalo, among others, in free agency, as well as first-round draft pick Broderick Jones.

Seumalo has been a steadying factor, as expected, at left guard, while Jones has pushed incumbent left tackle Dan Moore Jr. throughout the offseason, making that unit stronger.

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But it's been the maturation of Pickett that has the Steelers perhaps the most excited.

Pickett completed 11 of 13 pass attempts in the preseason for 199 yards and two touchdowns, compiling a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He also has shown a natural propensity for leadership, something that can be rare for a second-year player.

"He's the leader," Canada said. "We were doing the same things. We've run our offense, and obviously we have wrinkles and differences, but there's not been dramatic changes. Kenny understands it, knows where to go (with the ball), has the answers, 'If they do this, I do this. If they do this and this, then we do this.' 

"I think ownership as far as he's the leader and Kenny is a very outward leader, a strong leader, a commanding leader. … If you're there for a year, you kind of get it figured out, right? This is what I do in May so I do in June. This is I mean I think he's had that time to now put his own stamp on things."

It all has the Steelers in a good place heading into the regular season, even if, in the grand scheme of things, a perfect preseason isn't really all that meaningful.

"I think that's better," Canada said of the offense as a whole. "But, as I was saying, nothing matters until we play a real game."