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Steelers Analysis

How Will Arthur Smith and Russell Wilson Overcome MOF Problem?

The Russell Wilson signing makes sense for the Pittsburgh Steelers but there is one problem that they will have to overcome.



Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith
Atlanta Falcons coach Arthur Smith during an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)

The Pittsburgh Steelers splashed when it leaked that the team was signing Russell Wilson. But does the fit actually make any sense? Some concerning things could hold them back, specifically Wilson with new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

I have to say that, on the surface, the idea that Russell Wilson and Arthur Smith have any schematic chemistry is odd. So, I am intrigued by the fact that Wilson’s camp and the Steelers feel like this is a fit. So, to start off, let me take you inside my thoughts of it, right on the surface for the Steelers.

For one, no one attempted less intermediate passes last season in the NFL than Wilson. He threw nearly three-quarters of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage and 27 percent of those passes behind the line of scrimmage. Warren Sharp laid this out well. However, on the opposing side, the Falcons were 14th in those intermediate throws.

The tape backs it up. The moonball would come out, but Wilson did not attempt those deep bombs nearly as much last year. He averaged just 3.8 air yards per pass attempt, very comparable to Kenny Pickett’s 3.7 air yards per pass attempt. So, he’s joining an offense that historically works the middle of the field, but he does not. It’s a fascinating fit.

It should be noted that perhaps Payton should have had more confidence in Wilson. When they utilized that field area on just 163 passing attempts, they racked up 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But that’s on a low sample size. On the other hand, Smith’s Falcons led the league in intercpetions in that area of the field with 14 interceptions thrown. But Wilson has not thrown to this area of the field often in his NFL career, especially over the last three seasons.

In addition, for a team that popped so much out of under-center action, Smith started experimenting with ideas last year that might signal where this is going. More on that later, but the top concern of this has to be Wilson’s declining average depth of target and a lack of trust in him throwing over the middle of the field. Maybe those limited numbers provide hope that Smith can squeeze some more juice here. His scheme has ways to employ that change. It’s just not a natural fit. Smith did implement a legitimate run game with his quarterbacks over the last few years. Wilson was 2nd in the NFL in EPA/Rush the previous season and can still move. That is coming to the offense. Designed quarterback runs feel like a must.