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Steelers Analysis

Arthur Smith Must Embrace Gap Scheme Runs to Work with Steelers

Arthur Smith has to make some significant changes to his run game concepts if the move is going to work.



Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris in a game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 15, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a schematic problem with Arthur Smith coming in to be the offensive coordinator. Smith’s run game is built off zone runs. Mostly, outside zone and mid zone, but they put in a little bit of everything there. But the Steelers found more success down the stretch working off gap concepts, and Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren work better off those runs. They can be a solid zone run team, but when the under center action occurs over 80 percent of the time, it is hard to truly build the offense around it.

The Steelers are a team, has currently constructed with the personnel, that can run a lot of Smith’s 12 personnel stuff. But they won’t be able to maximize his scheme or their talent with Smith embracing the idea of what their athletic guards and tackles bring in space, in addition, to the running backs.

Now, the team will need to add some things to work in this scheme. The wide receivers better block, but more than that, they need that power slot receiver who can block out of those condensed sets. If they can not do that, much of his under center stuff will not work moving forward. It’s a hard sell. But the team wants to use play action to really help Kenny Pickett and other quarterbacks they might have in that room.

Smith has experience working with quarterbacks with limitations like the Steelers would boast, which is a plus. But this team is going run on either its defense or the run game cooking. The explosive plays will have to come on those play action under center looks, but they have two guys in Diontae Johnson and George Pickens that can do that.

But nothing will work unless some of those gap concepts become integrated into the offense. And Smith has to show some elasticity in his schematic ideas for that to work moving forward. If that does not happen, this hire could backfire tremendously on Pittsburgh moving forward.