Mike Tomlin and the Steelers have a philosophy issue that Arthur Smith won't solve

Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The Arthur Smith hiring was quickly followed by a mixed bag of emotions from Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Smith, the former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was relieved of his duties early in the 2024 offseason after he led the Falcons to a record of just 7-10 in each of the past three seasons.

During this time, Smith's offense mustered up just 19.6 points per game -- a mark that only narrowly topped Matt Canada's 18.7 PPG during the same three-year span from 2021-2023. Though the past three years have been rough for Smith, it was clear that he was at the peak of his career when he was an offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans.

Smith has been with the Titans' organization since 2011, and his first job in Tennessee was as a defensive quality control coach. From there, Smith worked with the offensive line then tight ends for a six-year span before being promoted as the team's offensive coordinator in 2019. This is when his career really took off.

In 2019 and 2020, Arthur Smith's offense was among the most efficient in the league in EPA and yards per play. His bread and butter has always been a dominant rushing attack. Smith utilizes the wide-zone rushing to set up the play-action pass. All of this worked wonderfully when he was the Titans' OC.

Now Steelers fans are eager to find out if this signing will be enough to make them contenders again.

Steelers need to alter their winning philosophy

There's no doubt whatsoever that Arthur Smith will be an improvement of Randy Fichtner and Matt Canada over the past six years (talk about a low bar to clear). But will he offer enough on offense to aid the Steelers back toward competing for a Super Bowl? Probably not.

The biggest strength that Smith offers (a stellar rushing attack) is already something that the Pittsburgh Steelers possess. Even Matt Canada's team was great at running the football down the stretch, and Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are already considered to be one of the best running back duos in the league.

Where this team has struggled since the departure of OC Todd Haley following the 2017 season is in the passing game. Pittsburgh's passing attack is both inconsistent and sporadic. Obviously, finding a true franchise quarterback would help out immensely in this department. But it doesn't seem like Smith is the offensive coordinator that is going to make the Steelers' passing attack lethal again.

In his five seasons as an offensive play-caller (three as a head coach and two as an OC), Smith's offense has never garnered so much as 225 passing yards per game over the course of a season. While he was able to make Ryan Tannehill one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks for a two-year span in 2019 and 2020 in Tennessee, Smith's offense isn't built to be able to exchange blows in the passing game against premier quarterbacks and top passing offenses.

Instead, it's all about running a ball-control, ground-and-pound offense that limits putting the ball in harm's way through the air. This is great for the regular season, and perhaps this will make the Steelers playoff-bound again next season under Smith. Sadly, this style of play might not cut it when Pittsburgh goes against the cream of the crop in the postseason.

This style steams through a deeply rooted philosophy issue that both head coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney II share. The Steelers have always found success by playing great defense, running the football, and not turning the ball over. But can this method win you a Super Bowl in today's NFL?

The biggest problem with Arthur Smith's offense is that it works best when playing with a lead. If the Steelers were to get down early, there isn't enough firepower in the passing game to come from behind or even exchange punches with other top teams in the league.

Additionally, Smith does most of his work out of heavy personnel groups and with the quarterback under center. When he's forced to abandon what he does best to spread out in shotgun and pass, his splits get ugly. This just isn't his game.

I want to make it very clear that I do think Arthur Smith is a quality coach, and I believe that he will prove once again that he's better as an offensive coordinator than as a head coach. However, hiring an OC with a run-first mentality probably isn't going to do a lot to help Pittsburgh's stagnant passing offense.

The Steelers need to get this right. If things don't work out with Arthur Smith as the offensive coordinator, Tomlin and the Rooneys need to shift their winning philosophy entirely so that this team can actually become a Super Bowl contender again.