Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer. He ranks in the top 10 in most QB statistics, has two Super Bowl rings, and has appeared in another. In year 17, at the age of 38, he has his team in first place of not only the AFC North, but the AFC conference in general, with an 11-1 record. He has exceeded expectations coming off major elbow surgery in his throwing arm. Us Steeler fans have been spoiled, to say the least.
When I started watching the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback. As I sit here typing this, Ben Roethlisberger is still the quarterback. So what is there to complain about? Well…let me tell you.
Time is Running Out
Whether we want to admit it or not, the window is closing. Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have many years left in him and finding a successor is much easier said than done. They need to capitalize on what they have, now. They have an elite defense, two potential Hall of Famers on the offensive line and weapons all across the offense. So what is holding this team back? It’s something that has been holding them back for a while now. The offensive coordinator.
In 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers brought in former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley to run the offense to replace the recently-departed Bruce Arians. Now I do want to give credit where it is due. I fully believe Todd Haley’s scheme (along with improved offensive line play) extended Ben’s career. However, despite having the likes of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Ben himself, the team never led the league in points or yards. His greatest shortcomings were in the red zone, to make matters worse.
The “Killer Bees” never reached a Super Bowl, and yes, you could argue health definitely played a role in that being the case. The point is the team tied the prime of their Hall of Fame QB’s career to an offensive mind who, quite frankly, wasn’t much of an offensive mind. The team parted ways with Haley following the 2017 season that ended with a playoff lost to Jacksonville. Haley went on to take the offensive coordinator position with the Browns. An experiment that lasted all of 8 weeks. He now holds an offensive coordinator position for a high school in Sarasota Florida.
Well, glad that’s over. Now they will surely bring in somebody with more creativity to get the most out of the weapons he has. Somebody with a great scheme and a reputation as an offensive guru. WRONG! The Pittsburgh Steelers promoted QB coach Randy Fichtner to the position to start the 2018 season.
It was a move that was widely expected, due to his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger. This, along with the fact that the team tends to promote from within, didn’t give fans a reason to raise eyebrows at the move. In year one of his tenure, we saw the red zone offense improve and the team finish in the top-six in both points and yards offensively. They missed the playoffs that year, but it’s hard to put that blame on the offense. Still, it just seemed like there was something missing. That something was creativity and it has carried over the last two seasons.
2019 could be considered hard to evaluate due to the loss of Ben Roethlisberger for nearly the whole season and injuries to nearly every piece of the offense throughout the year. What we’ve seen in 2020 has been inexcusable, though.
Randy Fichtner’s offense is very vanilla. There is no creativity and teams (vocally) are talking about how easy it is to read what play is coming next. They might as well be telling the defense what play they are going to run when they come up to the line of scrimmage. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t taking sacks, and that’s about the only good thing I can say about this offense in it’s current state. They are regularly putting themselves behind the sticks by running a screen play (which they are very poor at executing) or running the ball from shot gun formation for a loss. The team currently sits at 21st in yards, and for a team boasting the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington and Eric Ebron…that just doesn’t cut it for me.
The offense has shown to be at its best when they essentially throw out the script and “LET BEN COOK.” If that isn’t an indictment as to how poor of a scheme Fichtner has in place and how terrible his playcalling is, then I don’t know what is.
When the “Rooney Way” Backfires
To wrap this whole thing up, I often ask myself “Where else would a guy like this have this same position in the NFL?” Why does a coach as successful as Mike Tomlin not have any type of coaching tree? Nobody else wants these guys! Other organizations know they aren’t qualified to have the power they do. It goes back to the double edged sword that is the “Rooney Way.”
The loyalty of the organization is one thing that comes to mind immediately when you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That loyalty can be a fault at times. Randy Fichtner should have never have been given this position, but due to the Steelers’ organizational structure, he found himself in charge of what should and could be an offensive juggernaut. The team has placed way too much trust in somebody not worthy of receiving it.
The Steelers’ loyalty has given us fans many great memories and for the most part has worked out. You could also argue that loyalty minimized the results of Ben Roethlisberger’s prime years. He has found a way in the past to carry below average offensive coordinators to success. At 38 years old and coming off of a major elbow surgery, can he do it again?