Overreactions from Steelers Nation: Arthur Smith hired as new offensive coordinator

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation” a weekly column where I poke fun at fans, reporters, and so-called experts while trying to figure out if some of these hot takes are real – or just for attention.

I’ve been known to call some Steelers fans names from time to time, especially in this column. Those names include entitled, spoiled, and sometimes, clueless. This week, I’d like to add fickle to the list as well.

That’s because what I generally write here is a reaction to their overreactions to any given story that hits the media. One of the largest offseason stories for the Steelers was going to garner positive and negative reactions no matter what: hiring a new offensive coordinator.

Over the years Mike Tomlin and the Steelers have been criticized for their hiring and firing of coordinators. Bruce Arians, for example, wasn’t as beloved back in 2011 as he is now, because he allowed QB Ben Roethlisberger to get sacked 215 times in five seasons. He was an “internal” hire, promoted from Bill Cowher’s staff, where he served as quarterbacks coach, to being Tomlin’s offensive coordinator.

Arians’ replacement was an outside hire, Todd Haley, who ushered in the best offenses in the league for several years as the Steelers OC. However, Haley clashed with Roethlisberger, so his contract wasn’t renewed.

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Haley’s replacement was an internal hire, Randy Fichtner, who had a great relationship with Big Ben as his QB coach. Fichtner would falter, and be replaced by Matt Canada: who was promoted from the QB spot as well, but only served one year in that role.

Canada otherwise represented the fans demands to find someone outside of the organization who could bring in fresh concepts from the college ranks. Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out, as the Steelers prepare to announce Canada’s replacement: former Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith.

Three years ago Smith would’ve been at the top of anyone’s hiring list after leading high-powered offensive attacks with the Tennessee Titans as their offensive coordinator. His prowess was such that his name was tossed around in the same manner then, as current Detriot Lions OC Ben Johnson was this offseason.

But that was three years ago – enough time for Smith to fail as a head coach with three consecutive seven-win seasons in Atlanta.

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Despite fans complaining for an outside hire, and hearing Coach Tomlin state he would look for a play caller with experience, the news surrounding Smith’s hiring as been met with negative response. Most of the critics are quite to point out that Smith had an excellent track record with the Titans in 2019 and 2020. Among those accolades:

  • 16 games with 30+ points (tied for 2nd most)
  • 15 games with 400+ yards (tied for 4th most)
  • 5th most points scored
  • Top 10 points scored (10th and 4th)
  • Top three in rushing yards (3rd and 2nd)
  • 2nd in rushing touchdowns (both seasons)
  • 8th in passing touchdowns (both seasons)
  • Top five in fewest interceptions (5th and 2nd)
  • 2nd in fumbles lost (2020)

Steelers fans would absolutely commit crimes to mimic those same numbers over the last several seasons. Instead, they are fickle (there’s that word) and are now jumping to every hot take to dismiss this move as a poor one.

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The dismissive voices are mostly coming from the fantasy football world, which isn’t a surprise. Atlanta failed to replicate Smith’s success in Tennessee and therefore, that must mean Smith isn’t good. While Smith retained play calling duties during his time as the Falcons head coach, his issues had more to do with the quarterback position, where his options were limited to an aging Matt Ryan, veteran Marcus Mariota, inexperienced Desmond Ridder, and journeyman Taylor Heinicke.

Yet, the Falcons skill position players still put up numbers despite poor quarterback play.

TE Kyle Pitts had a 1,000+ yard receiving season in his rookie year. (2021). Ryan, at age 36, still nearly had a 4,000-yard campaign (falling short by 32 yards) that same season. And despite poor quarterback play from Mariota and Ridder, WR Drake London caught 141 balls for 1,771 yards over 33 games in the last two seasons.

Mariota and Ridder led the league’s third-best rushing attack in 2022, with Tyler Allgeier rushing for 1,035 yards, Cordarrelle Patterson rushing for 695 and Mariota adding another 438. Allgeier would add 683 rushing yards to rookie Bijan Robinson‘s 976 last season, combining for the NFL’s ninth-best run game.

The last time the Steelers finished with a top ten running game? You’d have to go all the way back to Tomlin’s first year as head coach in 2007, where they ranked third in yards.

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Smith’s success running the football is well noted as Titans RB Derrick Henry posted seasons of 1,540 and 2,027 yards, combining for 33 touchdowns. He also worked wonders with discarded QB Ryan Tannehill, who came over from the Dolphins to post his best seasons. In only 26 starts, Tannehill compiled 6,561 yards passing with 55 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The Steelers only had 48 touchdown passes total during the 51 games of the Matt Canada era. (Let that sink in!)

Naysayers will still point out Smith’s deficiencies with the Falcons, who still scored three more passing touchdowns over that same span. (And surprisingly equaled the Steelers rushing totals of 42 touchdowns for the same period.) However, we should discuss that Smith was pulling double duty as a play caller and a first-time head coach, the latter of which he will no longer have to worry about as part of his new role in Pittsburgh. He will return to what got him a head coaching gig in the first place, and what the Steelers hope to accomplish: a run-first offense that benefits the quarterback.

With either Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph looking like potential suitors as the team’s starting QB in 2024, I see nothing but positives. Like Tannehill during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, neither Pickett and Rudolph are prone to turning the ball over. Protecting the football with a one-two punch of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren in the backfield, now with Smith designing and calling plays, should be a bright light a the end of the dismal Canada tunnel the Steelers are now crawling out of.

This should be seen as a positive for those fickle Steelers fans who demanded an outside hire. Now you got one. Let’s not drag him down before a single snap of football has been played!

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