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Steelers 2022 Offensive Struggles Generate Reminders of Drastic Solutions from Seasons Past

Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steelers 2022 Offensive Struggles Generate Reminders of Drastic Solutions from Seasons Past

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense to start the 2022 season has come under a lot of scrutiny due to the lack of production and it hasn’t taken long for offensive coordinator Matt Canada to face harsh criticism. But it is hardly the first time that the Steelers offense and offensive coordinator have felt the increased pressure and it has led to some unique outcomes.

Steelers Kordell Stewart Jerome Bettis

Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Jerome Bettis (#36) and quarterback, Kordell Stewart (#10) had career seasons under Chan Gailey, but struggled under Ray Sherman. | Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images.

Bill Cowher as Offensive Coordinator

In 1998, Bill Cowher hired Ray Sherman to replace the departing Chan Gailey, who was hired by the Dallas Cowboys to be their head coach. Gailey was the inspiration behind the Steelers 1995 offense which helped the team reach Super Bowl XXX and had two masterful years as offensive coordinator, particularly in 1997 as both Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart had the best seasons of their respective careers. Cowher knew the hiring would be a blow as soon as it happened.

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

“Awesome for Chan; horrendous for me.”

Since the Cowboys announced the hiring in February at the league’s scouting combine, most of the experienced coaches were already locked into jobs. So, Cowher looked internally to Sherman, who like Canada, served as an assistant as quarterbacks coach before being promoted. By the end of the 1998 season, it was clear that Sherman was not the right fit, which led to Cower making a decision he would never repeat.

For the first time in his career, Cowher took the play-calling duties away from Sherman. Heading into the final game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he would call the plays himself. It turned out to be more than he expected, and he bit off a little more than he could chew.

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

“While I’d never run an offense, I figured calling plays couldn’t be that challenging. The night before the game, I told Mr. Rooney what I intended to do, and as always, he was supportive.”

“Well, he was supportive before he actually saw me start calling plays. I can’t imagine what he thought as the game unfolded. It took just one series of downs for me to understand that being an offensive coordinator is like trying to juggle hot waffle irons for three hours. The job is complex, and I was a little surprised by its fast-and-getting-faster nature.”

As the game progressed, Cowher could not keep up with the different packages of personnel and conduct his duties as head coach. He found himself congratulating Bettis on a play coming off the field while having assistants in his ear asking questions about the next play.  It was too much information for Cowher to process and he stammered through a 21-3 loss. At the end, Cowher was exhausted and thankful that it was over with.

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

“It was a cool night in late December, but I was sweating through everything I had on. Mr. Rooney told me after the game, ‘You know, that’s the best we’ve moved the ball this year.’”

“To my credit, I didn’t laugh. I was thinking, ‘But Mr. Rooney, we only scored 3 points.’ I just accepted the compliment and told him flatly I was never going to do that again. Never. No chance.”

Sherman was dismissed as offensive coordinator after only one season with the Steelers, marking him as the only Steelers coordinator (offensive or defensive), to be fired after only one season.


J_O: Where’s the O?


Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Chuck Noll departed from his offensive philosophy when hiring Joe Walton in 1990 to disastrous results. | Photo:

In 1990, Chuck Noll hired Joe Walton as offensive coordinator to replace Tom Moore. The Steelers were only a step away from the AFC Championship Game, but Noll’s conservative offensive philosophy of wearing down the opponent was failing to keep pace in an evolving league as the Steelers finished last in the league in offense.

Walton brought in a completely different philosophy that was highly complex and was considered one of the league’s top offensive minds. However, it turned out to be a huge transition for the players and was met with a lot of resistance from Bubby Brister and Louis Lipps.

There was a near mutiny in training camp, as the players resisted the entirely new nomenclature of the Walton system. The Steelers did not score an offensive touchdown in any of their first four games in the regular season and one coach lamented that, “The only thing our offense led the league in that year was delay of game penalties.” The fans felt the same frustration and it led to a display of one of the most creative signs ever to hang in Three Rivers Stadium featuring the phrase: “J_E, Where’s the O?”

Michael MacCambridge, per Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work:

“After a play called by Walton and relayed by Louis Lipps was garbled upon reaching Brister in the huddle, the confusion prompted Brister’s immortal line: ‘By the time it got from Joe to Louie, to me down on the field, it was just a damn lie.'”

At times, Brister would get so frustrated in the huddle, he’d just tell his teammates, “Screw it—let’s call a Tom Moore play.”

The offensive struggles divided the locker room into an offense vs. defense rivalry that carried over into Cowher’s initial campaign as coach in 1992. This fracturing of the organization had embittered many players as well as coaches, and the situation was not good with multiple players including Hardy Nickerson and Thomas Everett wanting out.

Bill Cowher, per Heart and Steel:

“I learned of a fairly intense offense-versus-defense split a couple of years earlier, and even that had splintered into a confrontation of offensive players versus offensive coaches. The offense had been so against Joe Walton, their offensive coordinator, that they briefly planned to boycott him. Chuck found out about the plan and lashed out, epically, in a meeting. But the ‘old’ problems were still current. It was obvious on and off the field.”


With rumors circulating about unrest and frustration in the Steelers locker room, including quarterback Mitch Trubisky, about the offensive production thus far in 2022, what kind of outcomes do you think might unfold that Mike Tomlin will have to face? Leave a comment below.


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.



  1. Pingback: Are The Steelers' Struggling Offense Stuck With 2nd-Year OC Matt Canada All Season? -

  2. Douglas E Hoffman

    September 24, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    If he don’t get rid Matt idiot offense is last in league be lucky win 2 game s

  3. Scott trisler

    September 24, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    Ur exactly right matt Canada plays r predictable I thought the dink dunk was put in for big Ben….not a more mobile qb Canada’s gotta go I think big Ben would b e a excellent o coord

  4. T.T. Lamont

    September 25, 2022 at 7:13 am

    It’s getting clos to Mutiny. Honestly the WRs KNOW that groups still set is upper level. They Lnow Najee and Warren are talented RBs and Pat is a great TE. Thru also see the Line beginning to Bond all the while being a “Below the line” Offense. Coach T needs to Consider carefully. I have ALWAYS been a Tomlin Supporter amd I get what he has tried to do with Mitch. But I think Mitch is Mitch…the Bears didn’t cut loose the overall number 2 pick for NO reason.
    Honestly Mason could have done more to date.

  5. Tony G

    September 25, 2022 at 10:02 am

    Its time to end this affair with Mitch and Canada.This offense can’t work in today’s NFL,Canada philosophy is terrible and predictable every defense knows what the Steelers are going to do before they break the huddle. All the talent they have on offense is being wasted.Tomlin I know you’re trying be loyal to both,but you need to make a move,or you will have your first losing season and many more if you hang on to both of them.

  6. Big D

    September 25, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    Life long Steelers fan but this is a terrible offense and our team doesn’t draft well and we don’t have the athletes to compete in today’s NFL which the coaches and front office never like to get premier Free agents to upgrade our team to compete Mitch Trubisky Defense is horrible also can’t stop a college teams

  7. PittDirt53

    September 25, 2022 at 8:19 pm

    IMO, the best QB for this team, right now, is resigned to the #3 slot. I’m not saying that Rudolph is better than Pickett, but he has been in this system for 2 years now and is not afraid to throw deep or over the middle. He did well in camp this year too.

    No, Rudolph is not mobile but why have him sit while Money Mitch struggles?

    I would trade Money Mitch and play Rudolph starting next Sunday. Keep playing Rudolph until Pickett is ready. Of course, Money Mitch’s trade value has sunk, so there is that.

    That’s the Steelers best chance to win. Right now.

  8. Karen

    September 26, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    Run,run, pass, punt

    You can pay me to game plan.

  9. James Esquibel

    September 26, 2022 at 2:35 pm

    At least give Kenny a shot! He has been a football soldier of Pittsburgh for four years alread!

  10. Mike constante

    September 26, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    Got to ride it out . I don’t look for panic changes. The Steelers just don’t. Congrats to bevis 0 and 3 start raiders …

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