With the Steelers' hiring of Arthur Smith as their new offensive coordinator, Coach Mike Tomlin is signaling to the NFL what his team's intentions are moving forward.
And the message is loud and clear. If you play the Steelers, you'd better be prepared to stop the run.
In five seasons as an offensive play caller, Smith's teams have shown a propensity to run the ball and do it well.
In fact, in only one of his seasons have his teams ranked outside the top 10 in rushing attempts – that coming in his first season as head coach of the Falcons, who were 29th in rushing attempts in 2021.
That would seem to mesh well with what the Steelers have in place.
"I think we have two high-performing running backs in Najee (Harris) and Jaylen (Warren)," Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this week. "They, along with an improving offensive line, can be the foundation of success going forward."
Smith's teams also have ranked second once and third twice in total rushing yards. Last season, the Falcons were ninth overall in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
Perhaps that comes from working under the head coaches under which he has toiled.
And they are names that should be familiar to all – especially Steelers fans.
He began his NFL career as a defensive quality control coach under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and then Jim Zorn in 2007 and 2008.
Clinton Portis led that 2007 Washington team with more than 1,200 rushing yards, then had nearly 1,500 yards in 2008.
After that, Smith's track record in the NFL has a distinct Steelers feel to it, as he's worked for former Steelers assistant coaches Mike Munchak, Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey, as well as former Steelers player Mike Vrabel.
Smith came up through the Tennessee Titans organization, joining the team in 2011 under Munchak as a defensive quality control coach. He shifted over to the offensive side of things in 2012, again as quality control coach before becoming offensive line/tight ends assistant in 2013.
Munchak was fired in 2013 and replaced by Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt kept Smith as assistant tight ends coach, and when he was replaced in 2015 by Mularkey, Mularkey elevated Smith to tight ends coach.
Smith retained that job following Mularkey's departure after the 2017 season, getting elevated to offensive coordinator by Vrabel in 2019.
After just two seasons as Vrabel's offensive coordinator, Smith was hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons after replacing Matt LeFleur. LeFleur was hired by the Packers as head coach after just one season as Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
The Steelers named Arthur Smith as the new offensive coordinator
In 2018 under LeFleur, Derrick Henry rushed for 1,059 yards, his first 1,000-yard season. In 2019 under Smith's direction, Henry rushed for 1,540 yards. Then, in 2020, he had 2,027 rushing yards.
Tyler Allgier rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2022 for the Falcons under Smith, while rookie Bijan Robinson had more than 1,400 total yards for the Falcons in 2023.
But it's not all about running the ball. Smith's system is quarterback friendly, with heavy usage of play-action.
Smith resurrected the career of Ryan Tannehill in his time with the Titans. Tennessee acquired Tannehill and a sixth-round pick from Miami for fourth and seventh-round picks from the Dolphins in 2019. He was expected to be a backup for Marcus Mariota, but outplayed him in Smith's heavy play-action packages and wound up starting 10 games, going 7-3 while throwing 22 touchdown passes against just six interceptions. In 2020, while Henry was rushing for 2,000 yards, Tannehill threw 33 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions as the Titans went 11-5.
While the Titans were 21st and 23rd in overall passing yards in Smith's two seasons as coordinator, they also were ninth both years in terms of passing touchdowns. They also were top-10 both seasons in points scored.
That was largely due to their overall productivity in the red zone. In goal-to-go situations in 2019, the Titans scored a touchdown 94.1 percent of the time. In 2020, they were at 88 percent. They led the NFL in both of those years. The Steelers were 20th in goal-to-go situations last season, scoring a touchdown 66.7 percent of the time.
Under Smith's direction, the Titans also led the NFL in red zone offense in both 2019 and 2020, scoring touchdowns at 75.6 and 75.0 percent rates, respectively. Both of those percentages ranked in the top 5 in the NFL since the 2000 season.
Smith's offenses also are decidedly different from what the Steelers have used in recent history.
The Steelers have been one of the heaviest 11-personnel teams in the league for the better part of the past decade, using three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back as their primary package. That included playing 73.1 percent of their snaps in that package in 2023.
Atlanta in 2023 used 11 personnel just 15 percent of the time, which was the lowest in the NFL.
What the Falcons did utilize more than any other team was 12 personnel with two wide receivers, one tight end and two running backs – typically a fullback with a runner. Atlanta played out of 12 personnel nearly 42 percent of the time, which led the NFL.
The Falcons also were in the top 10 in the NFL in terms of usage of two- and three-tight end packages.