When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive contributions against the Baltimore Ravens in the first game between the two teams earlier this season, there are not many from that contest who could hang their heads high. Nobody played particularly well. Nobody coached particularly well. And it showed on the field and the scoreboard.
Just ask first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who has repeatedly taken responsibility for the offense’s shortcomings this year, though perhaps that’s a big easier to do when you have a unit that is top five both in points per game and red zone percentage, and climbing on third down percentage as well.
The offense has played much better since that last game, and Fichtner is hoping to show it. To that end, he has spent a lot of time revisiting that previous ugly loss, which has served as a catalyst for the whole time to play better, and coach better, and simply be better.
“Our details were lacking in that game across the board”, he told reporters earlier in the week. “I’d start with myself. I’d start with our staff offensively. And I don’t think there would be a player that would say they felt like they had their best game. When we had a chance to look back through it we were pretty critical of what we did and didn’t do and it was a pretty good eye-opener”.
Ben Roethlisberger only completed 27 of 47 passes and lost the ball multiple times on pump fakes. Vance McDonald had five catches for 62 yards, but also lost a costly fumble. Antonio Brown had five for 62 and a touchdown, but it took 11 targets—which was mostly on Roethlisberger.
The offense scored just one touchdown in the whole game, but scored three times in all, all of them in the second quarter. In between, they were inept. The Steelers had 70 yards of offense in the first quarter, most of it on a 38-yard slant and run by JuJu Smith-Schuster. In the second half, it was even worse. Just 56 yards, and 0-for-6 on third down, including five incomplete passes and a completion for a loss of five yards. 0-for-7 if you include fourth down.
“We were on edge a lot in protection”, Fichtner recalled. “We didn’t throw the ball extremely well. We didn’t catch and carry and control the ball vey well. We probably didn’t hit holes well enough. I know the wide receiver group probably got out-physicaled in our run game and in pass releases”.
In other words, they struggled with pretty much everything. That was the first game in which they had their offensive line back, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert both missing the previous game. Conner was far from established yet, Roethlisberger was still misfiring to Brown more than half the time.
This is a much better unit that is also playing better since that game over a month ago. Fichtner knows. He’s watched that tape probably more than he cares to admit. This is a good test for him to prove in his young coordinating career that he learns from his mistakes and shows adaptability.