Matt Canada addresses Bengals LB Germain Pratt’s criticism of Steelers offense: ‘There’s a back story to that’

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It’s been a tough season for Matt Canada. The Steelers’ second-year offensive coordinator has been the center of intense criticism as Pittsburgh’s offense has struggled to score points this season. And while Canada’s unit did score a career-high 30 points against Cincinnati this past Sunday, they managed to score just 10 points in the second half (the last score coming in the game’s final minute) while netting just 139 total yards in a 37-30 loss.

After the game, Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt told CBS Sports that the Steelers “like to do the same plays over and over” when asked how Cincinnati’s defense was able to rebound after a slow start. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addressed Pratt’s comment on Tuesday, and Canada followed suit on Thursday. 

“I think it’s good for you guys to talk about it,” Canada said, via Chris Adamski of the Tribune-Review. “We have good self scouting.

“Coach Tomlin addressed it. My answer wouldn’t continue the narrative you’re hunting. There is a back story to that. I’ll leave it there.”

Canada added that he has known Pratt since he was in high school. Their paths crossed at North Carolina State, where Canada served as offensive coordinator during Pratt’s first two years in Raleigh.

“As you guys do all your investigating, sometimes there is more to stories,” Canada said. “It is what it is. We didn’t win the game. We were not good enough in the second half.”

When asked about Pratt’s comments, Tomlin acknowledged that there were “some repeat concepts” during Pittsburgh’s 37-30 loss. Tomlin added, however, that the Bengals also had repeat concepts. He said that is typical at this point in an NFL season, with teams having specific tendencies. 

“I don’t know that we were all that surprised by anything that they did offensively,” Tomlin said. “So then it comes down to execution. And that’s where I like to keep our focus. 

“We’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to make makable plays. And that’s our goal. And so that’s where our focus is as we lean in on this week’s opportunity and less about some of the fodder that you speak of.”

Tomlin agreed with a reporter who asked if better execution — thus leading to more big plays — could result in a larger menu of plays. If more big plays are occurring downfield, that would also help open things up for the running game and other areas of the offense. 

It may also help open things up for Diontae Johnson, the Steelers’ Pro Bowl wideout who has yet to find the end zone through 10 games. Tomlin said that more big plays from Pittsburgh’s other playmakers, including rookie receiver George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth, can help create more opportunities for Johnson. 

“Let’s be frank, okay. Diontae is the known commodity within the group, and so people are going to have an agenda to minimize his impact on the game, particularly in significant moments,” Tomlin said. “Possession down, red zone football. When you’ve got a guy that’s been a Pro Bowler, and really, he’s kind of the only one. You’ve got a young group, [so] that’s a component of it.” 

The continued growth of Kenny Pickett is certainly a big factor in whether or not the Steelers offense is going to continue to show signs of growth during the season’s final seven games. While Pratt and Co. may find it predictable, Pittsburgh’s offense nevertheless found a way to score 30 points against one of the NFL’s better defensive units. The Steelers would have scored more points if not for a few missed opportunities in the second half as well as consecutive penalties that ended a golden scoring opportunity with the Steelers in Bengals territory and trailing by just four points early in the fourth quarter. 

His record may not show it, but Pickett has shown considerable growth during his short time as the Steelers starting quarterback. Along with taking care of the football (he’s gone two games without a pick after throwing eight in his first five games), Pickett has made plays by using his mobility. In Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, Pickett recorded his highest passer rating of the year in a game that he played all four quarters. His performance drew postgame praise this past Sunday from counterpart Joe Burrow and veteran Bengals cornerback Eli Apple. 

“He’s able to extend plays,” Apple told CBS Sports when asked about Pickett. “Made some big time throws under some pressure. I thought he was gutsy out there.”

“I thought he did great today,” added Burrow. “He can build off of that momentum that he showed today. He’s got some young guys around him that he can build some chemistry with. I think he did a great job today. I told him after the game to continue to build off of this one.” 

While the offense needs diversity, Canada can’t control the self-inflicted wounds that plagued Pittsburgh’s offense during a critical moment in the second half. Down 27-23 early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers got the ball at the Bengals’ 47-yard line. Instead of capitalizing on the good field position, holding and illegal man downfield penalties ended the drive before it could get going. 

“The penalties were all on us,” running back Najee Harris said after Sunday’s game. “Can’t blame it on anybody else. Can’t blame it on anybody else but the people that were on the field, and I was part of that. We’ve just got execute better.” 

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