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Analyst Thinks Russell Wilson Could Be an ‘Awkward Fit’ in Arthur Smith’s Offense

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Pittsburgh Steelers Arthur Smith

It’s been well-noted this offseason that Russell Wilson isn’t the best at targeting the middle of the field. For sure, intermediate passing wasn’t his strong suit in Denver.

According to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football, Russell Wilson threw 27% of his passes behind the line of scrimmage last season, the highest out of 509 QBs since 2005. He also threw 62% of his passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, the second-highest out of 509 QBs since 2005 (*509 QBs in sample with a min 300 attempts in a season).

“Sean Payton had no confidence in Wilson’s intermediate passing. The 2023 Broncos had the least amount of intermediate passing of any offense since 2005,” Sharp wrote on X. “Wilson threw just 26% of his passes between 5-15 yards downfield, the lowest out of 509 QBs since 2005. It was nothing but record breaking rates of underneath passes and the occasional moon ball downfield.”

Yahoo Sports analyst Nate Tice thinks Russell Wilson could be an awkward fit in Arthur Smith’s offense, which relies on play-action and throwing over the middle.

“Looking at what Arthur Smith typically likes, I am a big fan of Arthur Smith as a play-caller and play designer. Maybe stepping back into the offensive coordinator role will be very good. I am interested in how he makes it work though. He is creative and he can make this work,” Tice said on the Jim Rome Show. At first glance, I don’t really like the fit because Russ likes to attack on the outside, which George Pickens will be a great fit, but Arthur Smith prefers to do quick-hitting play-action stuff over the middle.”

“Those guys all attacked over the middle because those are the yards that you get. Those explosive catches in the play-action game, Russ has never done that in his career. That is just not his attack style. He likes to attack downfield and create. The problem is if you go to Justin Fields, Justin Fields is like a taller version of Russ. He actually plays very similar.”

The Steelers are expected to be a run-heavy team under Smith. That’s been his M.O. everywhere he’s been. It also matches the team’s personnel. Tice thinks the potential is there for the Steelers’ offense to be an explosive unit, it’s just a matter of how Smith adjusts to Wilson’s strengths.

“I think the Steelers’ run game is gonna be fantastic. I’m very excited to watch that,” Tice said. “I’m excited to see how Arthur Smith makes this work ’cause if they do, it could be an interesting offense, like one that kind of sneaks up on some teams because they can create some explosive plays.”

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus also questions the Wilson-Smith pairing. He views it as a calculated risk by the Steelers.

“That Smith-Wilson dynamic has a very broad range of possible outcomes,” Monson wrote. … “Arthur Smith could well be the key to rediscovering the best form of Wilson as a starting quarterback, bringing back the player who was so good for the Seahawks for a decade.

“On the other hand, there are ways that Smith’s offense differs from those of Seattle during Wilson’s peak years — some that may lean on his weaknesses more. Smith’s scheme likes to target the middle of the field — though perhaps less than the narrative would suggest — and that’s an area Wilson has never excelled in, even at his best.

“Imagine a box in the middle of the field 15 yards in from each sideline and between the line of scrimmage and 20 yards deep off the line. Last season, Smith’s Falcons targeted that box 26.5% of the time, just below the league average of 27.5%. During Tannehill’s breakout season in Tennessee, the number was 31.5%.”