The Pittsburgh Steelers will see changes coming to their offense under Arthur Smith as the new offensive coordinator. But just what will change and where will the biggest areas of that change come? There’s more than this, but three things will change about the Smith offense.
One of the things that makes Smith’s offense fit in with the Sean McVay tree, or at least parts of it, is that he has some of the shortest splits in the league. Wide receivers will sometimes be on the hip on tackles or tight ends. That’s the reality of it, but it’s an interesting philosophy when done right. Smith attacks defenses from the inside-out rather than outside-in like most spread formations will do. That does not mean that both philosophies can not work, but McVay and Kyle Shanahan are on this wave now. They run bunch sets, stacked looks, and work out of these condensed splits. No team ran more plays out of condensed sets than the 49ers, but the Rams and Falcons are right behind them.
With Smith’s play-action game and wanting to attack in between the numbers, it makes perfect sense to do that. But to pull it off, you need some hosses that can block in the run game and dig out safeties. Because of the reduced splits, teams will almost certainly move into one-high shells and roll down the extra guy into the box to account in the run game.
Pittsburgh will need a standout blocking receiver who can do that, and to get effort out of the talented guys they have in that room. To Smith’s credit here, many of the top minds are moving in this way, but he needs to find a way to evolve under that guidance.
New Run Scheme
The Steelers will have a new run scheme coming to town, too. Under Matt Canada, they primarily run inside zone and split zone as their base, but throughout the season last year, they became a more diverse team, leaning into duo and other gap runs with pulling guards. That is the way the league is actually going with how diverse they are in the run game, but Smith runs mostly one thing, and that is wide zone. Pittsburgh ran some of that under Canada, but last year, it was far from their main ingredient.
Atlanta ranked 27th in runs with a pulling guard while the Steelers ranked in the top ten. So, the question becomes how much of the previous run game stays and how much they embrace Smith’s wide zone concepts. You have to imagine that Smith’s run game schematics are going to pop in a significant amount, but it’s not crazy to consider that Smith would look around the NFL and try to pivot into embracing some of those gap schemes considering where other top play-callers are going into the 2024 NFL season with in general.
Play Action Comes to Town
Your long national nightmare is over if you have been calling for play-action to Pittsburgh for over a decade. Finally, it will come and in spades. Smith’s offense is all about getting under center, working off his wide zone runs, and coming back to hit those plays over the middle of the field. Smith very much runs the 2019 version of the McVay-Shanahan scheme, and while that can work, the two-high revolution that the NFL has seen has cracked down on much of that. So, even those top play-callers have fought back and found ways to crack it.
One of the key ways to do that is with play-action, specifically under center. That still is not changing, and Smith is going to have lots of max protection and shot plays that he will dial up for explosive plays to make it easier on the quarterback in any given progression. There are guard rails that will be set up to help those quarterbacks make the plays necessary to put points up on the board. Play action is a huge part of that.