What happens a week from today in Baltimore I cannot say. I do however have a pretty good idea. The defense will play well and the offense will be lucky to score more than 13 points. I hope I’m wrong on the latter but regardless, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to re-think what they are doing on offense and it has way more to do with than just injuries.
The easiest excuse to find for this unit’s abysmal performances is to just simply say “they don’t have Ben.” This is true. Ben Roethlisberger has not been available to this team since week two but there are other issues going on that are more than just related to Big Ben or injuries.
Let’s start with the offensive line where I don’t care what anyone tells me, the loss of Mike Munchak has been glaring. His former unit is not what it once was and part of that isn’t necessarily their fault. Having to block eight-man fronts on a consistent basis isn’t easy but there’s more to digest. The current Steelers’ O-Line was built to protect Roethlisberger who, say what you will for Todd Haley, became a QB that got rid of the ball quickly. Both Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph do not share this asset. Their rate of getting through progressions however is much slower than that of Roethlisberger. That means the line has to block longer and in turn that results in more pressure. And you know what comes with more pressure… Eight-man fronts or not this offensive line has to be better at the point of attack and there just don’t seem to be any adjustments.
The Larger Point
Let’s get to the point though shall we? Randy Fichtner is in over is head as an offensive coordinator and the things he and Mike Tomlin are allowing to happen just aren’t good for anyone. Why are Steelers’ quarterbacks continuously throwing deep balls on third and short situations? And don’t give me this “we liked the matchup crap.” Even under Roethlisberger this was happening too often but when you have two young QBs the idea is to keep the chains moving and keep your defense off the field. Throwing deep in these spots has its place, but Fichtner and his QBs have to recognize the bigger picture.
Fichtner is also being out-coached and that has trickled down to OL Coach Shaun Sarrett too. The Blitz pickups are not where they need to be and that leads to immediate problems. I honestly do recognize that when James Conner isn’t available (don’t get me started on that) it’s tough sledding but there has to be more creativity. Where are the delays and the draws? Where are adjustments? Why does he keep packing in the formation rather than spreading the defense out? These are not upper level, master-class football coaching issues. It’s common sense! If you are seeing eight-man fronts and aren’t consistently throwing the ball well then spread out the defense. At least give your team a chance.
The Ben Excuse
Big Ben has always been one of my all-time favorite Steelers and that won’t change but I’m also a realist. I see something that needs attention and I’m going to say it. The idea that Fichtner be retained simply because “that’s what Ben wants” is ridiculous. I understand the familiarity and I realize there’s a certain comfort that Roethlisberger has with Fichtner but isn’t there a point where Tomlin has to say “this isn’t working?”
Because Ben is so near the end of his career, common thought is that Tomlin won’t make any changes at the OC until Ben is gone. I just don’t see it that way any longer. Tomlin’s priority is to his team not just the quarterback. Now if Tomlin just wants to go ahead and tell Roethlisberger that he’s calling his own plays then fine. That’s takes the onus away from Fichtner and puts all of the responsibility on Ben. That isn’t likely to happen but I don’t see Ben doing much worse. Besides, QBs calling their own plays was much easier when teams were running base offenses with very few substitutions. But I’m getting away from my point.
The fact that this team is even in a position to make the playoffs is truly incredible. The injuries to this offense cannot be disregarded but the Steelers’ have been carried by defense and we all know it. Tomlin and company have gotten as much as they could from the backups but there are still too many deficiencies whether Rudolph, Hodges or Mr. Rogers are under Center. Those issues start and end with Fichtner and his staff.
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