It seems like recently interviewed candidate Arthur Smith has the perfect profile for what Mike Tomlin wants in an offensive coordinator.
Smith, who applied for Matt Canada's old job on Sunday, was offensive line coach, tight ends coach and ultimately offensive coordinator (2019-20) with the Tennessee Titans. He ran a ground-and-pound offense at Tennessee that still managed to score 491 points in 2020 before getting the job as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
The Titans' low-risk passing game with Ryan Tannehill resulted in just 15 total interceptions for Tennessee's QBs in those two seasons. During his final two years in Atlanta, the Falcons ranked third with 522 attempts in 2023 and first with 559 in 2022.
That certainly sounds like the kind of offensive approach that Mike Tomlin tried to implement around Kenny Pickett, doesn't it?
The way Mark Madden sees it, perhaps this should actually be considered the first warning sign.
“I think Arthur Smith is going to be the guy that gets it,” Madden said during this week’s “Madden Monday” podcast. “If Kenny Pickett turns out to be Ryan Tannehill, whom Arthur Smith ran over at Tennessee under Mike Vrabel – another coach who has everything to prove – Tomlin would be happy with that. (But) I think Pickett stinks. I don’t think he’ll come anywhere close to Ryan Tannehill.”
Tannehill led the NFL in passer rating in 2019 (117) and was fifth in 2020 (106.5). Pickett ranked 27th last season with an 81.4.
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One problem, however, is that if the Steelers are looking for a young, innovative, up-and-coming coordinator with a strong feel for the NFL passing game, they may not find such a person willing to take their job because of the perceived limitations that Pickett is the likely starter again in 2024 and Tomlin's offensively conservative principles are the focus of the team handbook.
Just look at Zac Robinson. The former Los Angeles Rams passing game coordinator decided to go to Atlanta with fellow coach and Rams alum Raheem Morris. Morris takes over Smith's old job as head of the Falcons. And even though there was no clarity at quarterback there, three consecutive 7-10 seasons and a minimal organizational track record, Robinson still took that job before ever accepting an interview request with the Steelers.
What is written there?
“The young, promising guys don't want to work under a defensive-minded coach and with Kenny Pickett. They want to wait until a better job comes along. And for these guys it certainly will,” Madden said.
Then there's the unfortunate possibility that the Steelers might not be as good a running team for Smith as they think. After all, the Steelers were 19th in the NFL with 4.1 yards per attempt.
“The Steelers have always been really good at lying to themselves and not seeing themselves for who they really are,” Madden said. “I have to say, Broderick Jones gave this running game a kick in the butt and did a lot better when he got into right tackle — although I think he needs to be moved to left tackle.”
During this week's podcast, Madden and I also recap the NFC and AFC Championship games. We take a first look at the Super Bowl and also talk about the Penguins.