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Flavell's Five Thoughts: How Much More of Matt Canada?

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense, or coaches, weren't ready to win.

Kenny Pickett got the “varsity” call this week to be the Pittsburgh Steelers QB1 heading into one of the toughest environments in the NFL. His team nearly went down two scores before he even took the field.

Things got off to a rocky start for Pittsburgh and never really got any better as they fell to the Buffalo Bills on the road by a score of 38-3.

Not many thought the Steelers had a chance to win this football game. Even Vegas had them as two-touchdown underdogs and the Bills showed why they were heavily favored throughout much of this game.

Without trying to be too irrational following a blowout loss, let’s get into some thoughts about the drubbing.

Pickett, Pickens Come Away Shining Like Stars

Anytime that there are legitimate positives for a player in a 35-point loss, then that bodes well for that specific player's overall outlook in the National Football League. Luckily for the Steelers, their two bright spots include their first and second-round draft selections from this past offseason.

In his first career NFL start, Pickett came away throwing for 327 yards but still has not thrown a touchdown pass. It’s incredibly hard to believe that a QB can have a 300+ yard game and not luck into a touchdown but that’s the reality of this Steelers team.

Most of the afternoon saw Pickett fully engaged with a lot of poise and making throws that Mitch Trubisky hasn’t dared even think about in the first three-and-a-half games. Pickett attempted 52 passes so at some point he was going to reach 300…you would think. Game script definitely helped boost the numbers a bit. But a lack of run game and countless drops didn’t help the Steelers finish off drives.

George Pickens spent this week proving that his 100-yard effort last week was no fluke and that the Steelers might've gotten one of the steals of the NFL Draft.

Pickens hauled in six catches for 83 yards and nearly made another - and I can’t stress the word “another” enough - highlight reel catch late in this game. Although it would’ve been inconsequential to the scope of the game, it still would’ve given the Steelers a first down in the red zone.

He continues to create separation in one-on-one situations and make plays that many wide receivers just don’t make on a routine basis.

Offensively, the Steelers found two building blocks to an offense that is still young and learning but might not be as explosive as many thought they could be if everything broke down right for them.

How Much Longer Can Matt Canada Stay Employed? 

For Kenny Pickett to come out of this game smelling like roses outside of one bad throw before the half that went the other way and the Steelers to still lose that badly can’t be a good sign for Matt Canada.

The likelihood Canada ends up staying in Pittsburgh clear through the end of the season is pretty high. Pittsburgh doesn’t make many in-season personnel changes to the coaching staff. This has to be an exception.

The keys to the offense no longer belong to the journeyman quarterback. They belong to a rookie quarterback that has three more extremely tough games coming before the bye week. Canada has done nothing to inspire confidence that he is the guy that can get the most out of Kenny Pickett.

The first drive of the day was called well. They used Pickett’s arm and mixed in an occasional run to drive down into field goal range despite being down seven on his first drive. They got into field goal range and unfortunately, Chris Boswell missed. But the offense moved the ball and did so efficiently.

Nearly every drive after that in the first half, the Steelers unnecessarily forced the run game that clearly wasn’t working. The offense stalled and had no chance once the Bills got hot.

Who knows what the answer is as far as the offensive coordinator but it’s fair to wonder if Canada is the guy you want working with Pickett in the NFL.

Josh Allen Did What He Wanted When He Wanted

Both teams had members of their starting secondary banged up and sitting out for this contest. It just so happened that Josh Allen was able to exploit them better than Pickett, but that comes with being a veteran in the NFL.

Allen tossed for 348 yards in the first half against Pittsburgh. He found Gabe Davis deep twice, one of them for 98 yards on the opening drive of the game. Ironically, that was also the only time the Steelers laid a hand on Allen all day. Theoretically, they never had a chance.

Allen finished with 424 yards and four passing touchdowns. His lone interception came early in the second while leading 10-3 and it was picked off by his former teammate Levi Wallace, who Allen threw at early and often. It’s safe to say Allen took that personally.

Patrick Mahomes is often considered the top quarterback in the NFL and with good reason. On a weekly basis, Josh Allen proves that he belongs in that same discussion amongst the current elite quarterbacks in the league. Next week, they’ll face off in a rematch of the AFC Divisional Round matchup from last season that will surely be the game of the week.

Tomlin Wasn't At His Best and It Showed

Josh Allen will make many defenses look silly. The Steelers have the highest-paid defense in the NFL at $108 million. There is no excuse for them to be getting gashed this badly across four quarters of football even if the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is not currently available to you.

Despite Wallace getting picked on early, Tomlin never seemed to adjust and give him over-the-top help. Pittsburgh attempted to kick a field goal down by 21 with 3:39 left in the first half. They missed and a cowardly call became even more magnified in the scope of things. They again elected to kick a field goal with less than ten seconds left in the third quarter down by 28 which also resulted in a miss.

Don’t get me wrong, Boswell had a miserable day but Tomlin kicking field goals in both of those instances was a classic load of irony when considering the “We don’t live in our fears” mantra that the head coach routinely spits out.

The team looked unprepared and defeated as a whole and that ends up being a reflection of the head coach at the end of the day. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers come to Acrisure Stadium next Sunday. Tomlin and his squad better be prepared.

Jaylen Warren Earning More Varsity Reps?

Najee Harris spent the entire game running into nothing. He finished with 11 carries for 20 yards. Interestingly enough, Warren got a lot of the snaps in mop-up duty and was the only backup to enter the game despite the score. He finished with nine total touches for 63 yards.

Harris’ season line so far is not pretty: 69 carries for 220 yards and one touchdown. That amounts to 3.1 yards/carry. Offensive line issues or not, that won’t get the job done. Truly good running backs can make something out of nothing. Harris’ longest run of the year so far? 16 yards.

Harris has been too patient at times and looks like Le’Veon Bell sitting behind the line waiting for a hole to open up. Harris isn’t that kind of back. He’s got to trust his line and hit the hole and he’d admitted so himself.

The Steelers spent their first-round pick on him last year hoping to solve their running game issue. So far this season, the undrafted rookie Warren has outperformed Harris. I’m not suggesting that Harris’ starting job is in danger but more so that Warren may factor into the game plan more, especially if he continues to excel in the passing game and sees more chances on passing downs.

Bonus: Daniels, Pickett Show Fire Despite Blowout

Damar Hamlin met Kenny Pickett mid-slide. James Daniels took exception to it, dumped Hamlin near his sideline, and a melee ensued.

Shaq Lawson took a low shot at Pickett on the Steelers’ last offensive play of the game. Pickett took clear exception to it with the score being out of hand and decided to shove him when he stood up. Another melee ensued.

Across the two skirmishes, no punches were visibly thrown but Pickett showed that he is a gamer and won’t take any cheap shots like that. Pickett’s shove ended with both Lawson and A.J. Epenesa removed from the game. It was fair for Pickett to be relatively upset with the play and I commend him for standing up for himself in that situation.

As for Daniels, that was the first time I’ve seen a Steelers member of the offensive line show that much passion in defending their quarterback dating back a couple of years. He was quick to the defense of Pickett and showed no fear doing it right into Buffalo’s sideline and taking on practically the entire team.

There’s clearly a respect for Pickett and that is an important thing to see despite a 1-4 record five weeks into the season.

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