AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
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The Pittsburgh Steelers recently hired a new offensive coordinator, landing on former Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith as the man to succeed Matt Canada, who was fired midway through the 2023 season. Smith's offenses in Atlanta were mostly pretty good during his first two seasons, but collapsed this year under the weight of poor quarterback play and suboptimal utilization of the team's skill-position players.

Pittsburgh is all too familiar with each of those issues, as they plagued the team during Canada's run in control of the offense and down the stretch of this season after he was replaced. But Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II thinks they'll be able to form a strong offense in the future -- or at least, that they are better-equipped to do so now than they were a year ago.

"I do feel that we're closer this year at this stage of the game than we were at this point last year," Rooney said, according to ESPN. "I think we have a core group of players that we can compete with. I think the biggest thing we need is quality play at the quarterback position."

Well, if the biggest thing you need is quality play at the quarterback position, then you are probably not close at all to having a good offense. Quality play at quarterback is the single-most important determining factor in offensive performance. Without it, you are too far behind the eight-ball to get there. But Rooney doesn't think that way. He wants the Steelers to be like Steelers teams of old.

"I think we have an idea of what we want the Steeler offense to look like," Rooney said. What does that mean? Mostly, that they should build their offense first and foremost around their running back duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren.

"I think we have two high-performing running backs in Najee and Jaylen and they, along with an improving offensive line, can be the foundation of success going forward," Rooney said.

The key there is "an improving offensive line," which is what drives most of running back success, with the exception of the ability to catch passes and break tackles. The Steelers set out a couple years ago to improve their run game, and did so by drafting Harris in the first round. But he has been largely outperformed on a down-to-down basis by Warren (an undrafted free agent) during their careers because Warren has been a better pass-catcher and tackle-breaker. 

Once the offensive line started playing better, Harris did become more effective as a runner. But the fact that running back success is so dependent on the offensive line is an indication that it's not the running backs who are driving offensive results. It's the quarterback, the line, and play design and play calling.

The Steelers will need to improve their line, they'll need Smith to put their skill players in position to succeed, but most importantly they will need to get far better at quarterback if they want to be successful offensively. No matter how good Harris and/or Warren are as players, the Steelers' ultimate success will depend on whether they can find an upgrade over the likes of Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky, and/or Mason Rudolph. Rooney even acknowledged that himself, even if he also expressed a desire to do things the old way and make the backs the foundation of the offense.