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Steelers Analysis

Finally, Play Action Passing is Coming to Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to be running a significant dose of play action passing under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.



Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett and RB Najee Harris against the Cincinnati Bengals, Nov. 26, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

When the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Arthur Smith, they knew a few things would come with it. For one, other than a new guy running the offense, all of his schematic ideas would come in and force the players to learn a new scheme after three seasons under the Matt Canada scheme. But for Pittsburgh, the change is not even that in-depth. The biggest change might be the fact that Smith uses play action to open up the middle of the field and create chunk plays.

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.

The Steelers were never higher than 28th in play-action passing rate over the last two seasons. It’s a huge shift to go to someone who runs it, generally, in the top ten highest rates in the entire NFL. And his offense relies upon it because it creates explosive plays in the passing game instead of relying upon the dropback passing game. Smith’s offense is designed to mitigate quarterback weakness and set up guardrails.

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. The Steelers will have to embrace that this offseason to get the most out of his offense.

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T. Rupert
T. Rupert
February 10, 2024 3:50 pm

4 months ago…the change might be what KP needs.