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Steelers interview OC of the NFL’s worst offense in 2023

But former Carolina Panthers OC Thomas Brown may not have had a fair shake at it.

Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown looks on during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Detroit Lions at Bank of America Stadium on August 25, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are interviewing former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown for their open OC position, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday.

Brown came up through the Sean McVay coaching tree, having spent three seasons with the LA Rams before taking on the offensive coordinator role with the Panthers, including two years under McVay as the assistant head coach.

2023 marked Brown’s first season as an offensive coordinator, and if you’re looking at the numbers at face value, it wasn’t exactly a season to remember. The Panthers ranked 31st in the league in points scored and dead last in yards produced. The rest of the data (courtesy of PFF) looks equally grim:

  • 3.9 yards per play (32nd)
  • -0.177 EPA per play (30th)
  • 39.1% +EPA rate (29th)
  • 24.4% scoring drive percentage (30th)
  • 29.6% successful play rate (29.6%)

... you get the picture.

Still, Brown does check off some of the desired elements that HC Mike Tomlin is admittedly seeking, including play-calling experience. Former Panthers HC Frank Reich had started the year calling plays on offense but handed over duties to Brown starting in Week 7 following the team’s 0-6 start. He held onto those duties for the next three weeks, before Reich subsequently yanked his play-calling duties three weeks later. Reich was fired after resuming play-calling duties for another two games where the offense produced 20 points combined. Brown took back over play-calling duties to close out the year. What a wild ride.

In short, Brown’s rookie season as an offensive coordinator was a tumultuous one under Reich and he wasn’t exactly given the best personnel with which to execute. After all, the team traded their top wide receiver, D.J. Moore, to the Chicago Bears in the pursuit of quarterback Bryce Young. The rookie was subsequently tasked with throwing to a cast of misfit wide receivers, the best of them by far being 33-year-old veteran Adam Thielen. Their offensive line was generally a mess, particularly at left and right guard.

So, yeah. What else would you really expect from a rookie quarterback playing behind a shaky offensive line throwing to 33-year-old Thielen and a hodgepodge of Jonathan Mingo, D.J. Chark and Terrace Marshall? It’s hard to blame it on the offensive coordinator when he wasn’t set up for success in the first place. It’s fair to say that even though the numbers paint a grim picture, Brown deserves a shot at a proper evaluation as a play-caller, and there’s no doubt that the talent in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room would far outmatch the assets in Carolina. Maybe that “brilliant offensive mind” can scheme up something a little more original for this wide range of weapons the Steelers are deploying.

It does seem like Tomlin is truly looking for a spark of ingenuity for this offense, having now interviewed Brown and having reportedly requested an interview with Rams quarterback coach Zac Robinson for the position, as well as former Arizona Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury. So, maybe change is coming after all...