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Steelers Analysis

Farabaugh: How the Steelers-Russell Wilson Fit Can Work

Why could the Pittsburgh Steelers marriage with Russell Wilson work out? Here’s a few ways it could.



Pittsburgh Steelers Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson warms up against the Steelers, Oct. 17, 2021 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers are welcoming Russell Wilson into the quarterback room. With new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, the fit is intriguing, to say the least. On the surface, it’s odd, too, as Wilson struggles to target the middle of the field, the area that Smith identifies the most in his offense. But if they are going to work together, how can it work out?

Well, I can see this all working out in three ways between Smith and Wilson. First, you have to accept there will be some elements of ‘Russ-Ball’, which include out-of-structure chaos and a guy who holds onto the ball for too long (Wilson was 3rd in the NFL in time to throw last season at 3.03 seconds).

For one, under-center player action with deep drops to let Wilson unleash his deep ball is a huge factor. The Steelers have two receivers who can win vertically in Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Get that going, and Wilson can uncork that sucker. His athleticism had diminished, highlighting his issues with pocket management, but when Wilson is comfortable, he slings the pill down the field with the best of them. So, this is a massive must.

The second is that shotgun play-action needs to be utilized more. Russell Wilson can’t see over his offensive line. It’s just a fact. His height has a drawback to it. But shotgun play-action allows him to set up his launch point and uncork the deep ball. Atlanta did this a lot more than Denver did in 2023. It was one of the new wrinkles Smith added to the offense. According to Sports Info Solutions, Atlanta had 98 such plays, while Denver had just 35. But Denver averaged 10.6 yards per attempt there, and Wilson appeared comfortable on those plays. A bigger sample size of those plays, especially to Pickens, is coming. Atlanta was 8th in yards per attempt in the gun on play action.

Lastly, this team needs to work out of empty. The Falcons had 69 such attempts out of empty, while the Broncos had 60 last season. But Wilson is comfortable there. He can decipher a defense before the play and, generally, start to work the quick game. Pittsburgh has to try to get something going in the quick game with Wilson that he can latch onto throughout the season. He has a great deep ball, but teams will sit in two high to remove the deep ball and make the Steelers’ offense one-dimensional. These are three key things to watch, but they are likely crucial to Wilson’s success.