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Weeks after dismissal in Atlanta, Arthur Smith nearing a deal to join the Steelers, AP sources say

By The Associated Press
Posted 7:06PM on Tuesday 30th January 2024 ( 2 months ago )

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping Arthur Smith can turn around one of the NFL's most underachieving offenses.

The Steelers are nearing an agreement to make Smith their new offensive coordinator, multiple sources told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The sources spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal was not official.

Smith would come to Pittsburgh just weeks after the Atlanta Falcons fired him as head coach following three straight 7-10 seasons. The magic Smith was able to produce while serving as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee in 2019 and 2020 — when the Titans finished 12th and then second in total offense — never materialized in Atlanta, which finished in the bottom half of the league in yards and points during Smith's tenure.

He could get a fresh start with the Steelers, who managed a 10-7 record and a playoff berth despite an offense that ranked 25th in yards and 28th in points and didn't show any real signs of life until the final three weeks when third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph spurred a late winning streak that helped Pittsburgh sneak into the postseason.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said Monday that while the team still believes in starting quarterback Kenny Pickett — who endured a bumpy first full season as a starter before sustaining an ankle injury in early December that forced him to watch from the sideline — it's also time for Pittsburgh to get “quality play out of the quarterback position going forward.”

Rooney also indicated he'd be interested in bringing back the free-agent-to-be Rudolph to compete with Pickett during training camp, praising Rudolph for his play down the stretch.

Smith's charge with whoever is behind center will be to come up with an approach that puts more points on the board to take some of the pressure off Pittsburgh's star-laden defense. The Steelers have finished 21st or worse in scoring in four of the past five seasons, one of the reasons the team took the unusual step of firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada just before Thanksgiving, the club's first in-season dismissal of a coordinator or head coach since World War II.

There are players to build around. Pittsburgh has one of the best running back tandems in the league in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Wide receiver George Pickens has shown flashes of brilliance, though those flashes have been tempered with bouts of petulance. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is one of the league's better route-runners and tight end Pat Freiermuth is a quality playmaker when healthy.

Rooney said on Monday the team was close to making a hire. Less than 24 hours later, the team was closing in on its man.

“We’re looking forward to have someone come in and take a fresh approach who can help our young players grow and perform and have the offense perform at a consistently high level,” Rooney said.

Something that hasn't happened since the height of the “Killer B” era in the mid-2010s when Ben Roethlisberger was throwing passes to Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell was one of the most productive all-around backs in the league.

The Steelers have somehow stayed competitive almost in spite of the offense, but they've also been exposed in the postseason. Pittsburgh has dropped five straight playoff games, four of them by double digits.

Smith would seem to be a good stylistic fit with the Steelers. Pittsburgh general manager Omar Khan and assistant general manager Andy Weidl are trying to build a physical team that likes to lean on the run. Smith was able to install a system that exploited the talents of Titans star running back Derrick Henry as Tennessee reached the postseason in each of Smith's two years calling the plays.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

FILE -Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith speaks during a news conference after their loss against the Carolina Panthers in an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. Smith, who was fired by Atlanta on Jan. 8, is nearing a deal to become the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers a source told The Associated Press on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Rusty Jones, File)

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