It’s not as easy as saying “Ben will be back at QB so everything will be fine.” Maybe I’ll be proven wrong but there’s no way that any of us can hang our hat on a fully recovered Ben Roethlisberger to carry Randy Fichtner in 2020.
Earlier today, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that all signs suggest that Fichtner will retain his job as the Steelers’ Offensive Coordinator. This flies in the face of one of my offseason predictions but I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet. I say that because I’ve seen this movie before. “Much maligned coach is retained by the team but really doesn’t have the same role.” I still contend there’s enough time to re-install Fichtner as the Quarterback’s Coach only and have someone else run the offense but today’s development doesn’t look good for that idea.
If Fichtner is indeed going to be the primary play-caller and gameplanner then some things have to change. For sake of argument let’s assume Roethlisberger is ready to go for the season. That in and of itself helps Fichtner a ton but doesn’t get him out of the woods. The Steelers have transitioned away from the high-flying days of the Killer B’s and that needs to continue. We cannot and should not expect Big Ben to throw the ball 40 times a game. A running game is an absolute must in 2020. Don’t think so? Look at the final eight teams in the postseason. They all happen to be the top running teams in pro football.
But Fichtner has to show growth here. Bringing in Zach Banner and running the counter or power behind him hasn’t fooled anyone and it won’t. There has to be more creativity in terms of personnel usage and in terms of spreading defenses out as well. With the current roster, I see no reason to continue with the ‘wildcat’ formation either. It was a nice change up against the worst team in the NFL earlier in the season and then became laughable.
Getting his receivers open more often has to be a priority as well. Certainly a lot of that is on them but part of being a good coordinator is scheming to get your playmakers the ball and this was an area Fichtner really struggled in this past season. The lack of screen passes and design was a detriment to the Steelers’ offense as well and Fichtner cannot ignore this things either.
Fichtner must also get his Red Zone mojo back that he had in 2018. Granted, much of this year’s dismal performance was due to the lack of Big Ben but the overall design of plays, the poor execution and the play-calling themselves were just plain bad. Fichtner was never able to build things around the positives of Mason Rudolph or Duck Hodges either and that concerns me going forward. What happens if Roethlisberger misses time again? With both Rudy and Duck likely back as the number two and three QB what can we honestly expect to change?
Much like we cannot pin everything on the players, we can’t put the poor offense all on the shoulders of Fichtner either. There were moments filled with potential that ended simply because of poor execution. I am of the mind however that this still falls on coaching. If you aren’t getting the proper execution out of your players on a consistent basis then that requires some glances in the mirror.
If Fichtner is indeed returning as the OC then there have to be changes regardless of who is playing quarterback. The defense is too good to waste and putting forth a competent offense is the best way to keep that from happening. My confidence in that is shaky at best.
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