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Arthur Smith and the Run Game Must Evolve

Arthur Smith must make change what he is doing for the Pittsburgh Steelers rushing offense to work as intended.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith

In addition to everything new on the team, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a new offensive coordinator in 2024. Former Falcons and prolific Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith will head the ship after the team fired Matt Canada in the middle of the season. But what is the team getting?

They are a mix of smash-mouth football with play action to create explosive plays. It sounds very much like the 2019 en vogue type of offense that guys like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay were running at the time. Except, Smith has not changed as much as they have over the last five seasons.

Even the players do not fully know, but Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth reached out to a familiar face who would know. He contacted Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts and got nothing but positive reviews from Pitts about Smith and what he would bring to the table.

“Me and Kyle Pitts are close from college and going with each other, and obviously, pre-draft training, so I texted him and KP had nothing but good things to say about Coach Smith,” Freiermith said on Steelers Afternoon Drive. “Just being around him early on, you can tell his passion and drive to want to be great and get the offense where it should be. Everyone’s excited, and it’s been great to begin the install process and get to know the offense and I think it’s cool because we have all of these new quarterbacks and it’s cool to install an offense together. Just to kind of bounce ideas off of and really understand at a base level what coach wants.”

Back in late March, Mike Tomlin explained what he liked in Smith and what led him to make the hire in the first place, and part of it was his familiarity with him over the years.

“First and foremost, man, I’ve competed against him over the years,” Tomlin said of Smith. “We’ve had some battles against Tennessee and then obviously we played him when he was in Atlanta. I respect his approach, the ball, his values are very evident in looking at his tape and they are aligned with things that we value controlling the game through our bigs and building from there and then I also got close relationships with some people who were really significant in his development and helped him establish some things that he strongly believes in, guys that I’ve had an opportunity to work with like much for example, and so it was really a great deal of comfort and beyond comfort. It was a great deal of excitement in terms of bringing him on board.”

Smith was fired by the Falcons after three unsuccessful seasons as their head coach. In three years running the show in Atlanta, Smith went 7-10 each season, finishing no better than third in the NFC South.

Smith had a lot of success in Tennessee as an offensive coordinator, however. The Titans finished 10th in scoring and third in rushing in his first season in 2019, leaning on a strong offensive line and the talents of running back Derrick Henry. That provided the blueprint for the franchise, as they finished fourth in scoring in 2020, all the while having a below-average passing attack.

We got our first chance to talk to new Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith over the weekend, and my big takeaway from talking to him is to expect this offense to be more than just a carbon copy of what he did in Atlanta and Tennessee.

I expect the Steelers to keep some of the power and gap-style runs they used with success last season, particularly when it comes to getting Najee Harris going. One of the biggest improvements after Matt Canada’s firing was the team finally seeming to figure out which runs worked better for Harris and which worked better for Jaylen Warren. I think that is one of the reasons that Mike Sullivan, Eddie Faulkner and Pat Meyer were all retained.

They have to change it for this to work. The offense is too athletic and has too much experience pulling linemen for them not to implement more gap schemes. More than that, this team has the running backs that work with pin-and-pull schemes, not the running backs to run 40 percent mid-zone runs.

If this whole thing works, it will start with Arthur Smith, who must be the engineer of all this change. It’s just a matter of if he can learn from what went wrong with the Falcons to make sure it does work to its full effectiveness with the Steelers this upcoming season.