No Roethlisberger a new experience for Fichtner
The Steelers are in uncharted territory not having Ben Roethlisberger for the remainder of this season. That's a big adjustment for OC Randy Fichtner.
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Bubble screens, reverses in the red zone, flea flickers, WR passing plays. Time to go all crazy this weekend
Essentially he's probably looking at the 4 pass plays they have where Ben just waits until somebody finally uncovers and he's thinking... well shit. We may need more plays.
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Tomlin is first one out of the clown car, but they are all in there. We need some smarts on the coaching staff. Don't have any.
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2 yard curls here we come..lol
Randy Fichtner has been an offensive coordinator for only one-plus season — 18 games to be exact. And in all 18 of those games, Ben Roethlisberger has been his starting quarterback.
So, it wasn’t that big of a deal that if things went sideways early in games Fichtner would scrap the game plan and let Roethlisberger wing it.
That option is now off the table for Fichtner with Mason Rudolph making his first career start on Sunday against the 49ers with Roethlisberger having season-ending surgery on his right elbow.
Now more than ever, Fichtner is going to have to stick to the plan and stick to the basics even if he believes Rudolph can do some of the same things Roethlisberger did.
That means Fichtner will have to call more run plays to shorten the game, call some high-percentage throws early and be sharp on his call sheet to make it unnecessary for Rudolph to audible at the line. Fichtner, a pretty sharp offensive mind, has to balance being too conservative with not allowing Rudolph to make a play.
Is Fichtner wired that way?
“You are not going to be stagnant,” Fichtner said. “You are not going to, ‘Well, the young quarterback is in, we can’t throw the ball more.’ Yes, we can throw the ball more. Yes, we can do this type of scheme, can’t do this type of scheme. You don’t really know what you can do till you try something. I think that is exciting as well.”
Rudolph will defer to Fichtner’s play-calling more often than not. That’s something that is much different with Roethlisberger in there. Roethlisberger had the autonomy to call plays in the no-huddle or even change things at the line if the defensive look warranted such a decision.
“I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. I am going to do what they ask of me,” Rudolph said. “There are some areas and some checks I can have a little bit of freedom, but it’s not going to be the freedom that Ben has, not even close. And I don’t really want it to be. I want it to be controlled by Randy and want to execute the plays that are called.”
That’s going to be new to Fichtner, who would usually defer to Roethlisberger.
Fichtner doesn’t have that luxury now so it’s incumbent on him to be patient with the predetermined game plan and not give in to temptations of scrapping it all at the first sign of trouble.
Fichtner, who called his first play in nearly 20 years last year, admitted to panicking early in the opener against the Patriots and said that affected his play-calling later in the game.
Fichtner needs to be on the top of his game — and so does Rudolph — and, well, as Bud Kilmer once famously said …
1. Stay on the gosh-darn field — The offense has been terrible and one of the main reasons has been its inability to stay on the field. A lot of that has been because of a lackluster running game on early downs that made third downs much more challenging to convert. Through two games, the Steelers averaged 56 yards per game on 15 carries, converted only 26 percent of their third downs (down nearly 20 percentage points from last year) and only two of their 22 drives went for more than nine plays. It’s hard to score like that. This week, it is extra essential to get that run game going with James Conner on early downs that will take some of the pressure off Rudolph converting third downs.
2. Move around Minkah … a little — Even though everybody involved (Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler) is saying they aren’t going to put too much on newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers might be dabbling in some gamesmanship. As Butler said last week about communications issues, “This isn’t Chinese.” No, it’s not and because Fitzpatrick has been lauded as much for his smarts as his athleticism, moving him around shouldn’t be an issue. What needs to happen is the Steelers need to use him to cover the slot receiver as well as tight end George Kittle while not making wholesale changes to their personnel because of whom the 49ers put on the field. Do that and play some deep safety and call it a day.
3. Make a play — Somebody, anybody make a play for Rudolph because nobody did for Roethlisberger. The wide receiver group hasn’t done much through two games other than not getting open and dropping passes. The coaching staff recognized that and rearranged its depth chart to have more James Washington and Diontae Johnson and less Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer. There have been very few plays down the field, and even more concerning is there haven’t been many in the way of chain-moving plays. Johnson made a contorting, one-handed catch last week that kept the drive going that ultimately led to a touchdown. That’s what making one play can do. It starts with Washington and Johnson. They need to sway some coverage away from JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has been nearly invisible in two games.
4. Keep it simple — With Vince Williams out and Fitzpatrick in after just a couple of practices, the Steelers need to keep their defense simple. They need to scrap the multiple looks — especially the dime and the big nickel — and, well, keep it simple with a lot of base 3-4 Okie and nickel. That would help subside the communication issues and also keep the best players on the field at all times. It would help Devin Bush and, to a degree, Fitzpatrick. Bush has struggled so much through two games that he wasn’t part of the game plan much last week until Williams went out in the first quarter. Bush responded by giving up two touchdowns to Will Dissly (of all people), one of which he total blew the coverage. When you have so little room for error with a new quarterback on offense, the defense can’t have breakdowns. You do that by keeping it simple.
5. Conquer the West Cost woes — Tomlin is 1-5 on the West Coast, but it goes further than that when this organization plays in the Pacific time zone. The Steelers lost two in a row in San Francisco, four in a row in Oakland, five in a row in Seattle and nine in a row in Los Angeles when they played the Rams. They’ve had moderate success in San Diego over the years, but there’s just something about traveling across the county for this team. Trust me, it’s real. A lot of those Raiders teams were just awful. The Steelers will adjust this week by heading to San Francisco 6 1/2 hours earlier than they usually would.
Every indication points to a 49ers blowout — the Steelers’ new quarterback, the 0-2 record, the underachieving defense, the West Coast woes. But it’s not as simple as that. The Steelers still have a lot of talent on their team and now have their backs against the wall, suggesting a surprise might be in order at Levi Stadium. A lot of that is going to be on the shoulders of Rudolph. If he can make timely throws, convert third downs and not make the big mistake, the running game is good enough to sustain drives and score enough points to win. The defense has the talent to be a big helper as well. But there is a lot that needs to happen to come away with a win, regardless of the consequences if they go 0-3. Sure, it’s possible everything clicks and they beat a team that really hasn’t played anybody of note yet, but who is willing to bet on that? Not me. This game will be competitive, but the 49ers have too much going for them to pick against them. 49ers 26, Steelers 21.
(Photo: Charles LeClaire / USA Today)