After hiring Arthur Smith, the Pittsburgh Steelers have dipped into the Sean McVay tree. It’s not a surprise, given the way they worked their run game schematics following their game against the Rams and the overall interest in the entire tree. Smith has connections to that after working under Matt LaFleur in 2018 while with the Titans.
While he will need to evolve to get back to the level he was at with Tennessee, Smith does do one thing that McVay and Kyle Shanahan love to do anyways.
One of the things that makes Smith’s offense fit in with the 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, many of the top minds are moving this way, but he needs to find a way to evolve under that guidance.
You will see many max protection shot plays from those splits to create traffic and havoc. Again, it’s not as polished as Shanahan or McVay and resembles what those guys were running in 2019 or 2020 more than the stuff they run right now. But Smith has the impetus to change his scheme and modernize it after getting fired from the Falcons. The only question is if he will look around at offenses similar to him and evolve. If he does, he’s not that far off from having an offense that follows schematic trends.