One of the things that you have probably been made aware of this season about the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is the fact that they have made meaningful strides in terms of being effective when they get the football inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line, affectionately known as the ‘red zone’.
Those strides have come under new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who has never held that role at the NFL level previously, but who knows the Steelers’ offense as well as anybody, having spent the past decade-plus first as their wide receivers coach, and then as their quarterbacks coach.
The decision to move on from Todd Haley after six seasons was based in part on the desire to improve the team’s red-zone success on offense, at least if you base that on the public comments that President Art Rooney II made this offseason. Whenever he makes his public remarks, we pretty much always see the team make a concerted effort to improve the area in which the boss man is concerned.
And that has happened so far this year, as the Steelers are among the best red-zone offenses in the league, scoring 15 touchdowns on 20 trips inside the 20-yard line so far. How have they managed to achieve these results?
“We’ve dedicated time to it”, Fichtner told reporters yesterday, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I’d like to think some offseason study things we’ve done, some thoughtfulness things we knew we had to improve that had been an eyesore at times”.
The Steelers have also come away with points on 18 of their 20 trips inside the red zone, the two failures having been the result of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger making unwise decisions in the season opener and against the Atlanta Falcons, which resulted in interceptions on passes forced to Antonio Brown in double or triple coverage.
“You can’t have negative plays. We have turned it over two times down there, that’s probably the two times we may not have scored a touchdown”, Fichtner noted. Both of those turnovers were big at the time, though they ended up winning the latter game in blowout fashion. It was close at the time of the interception.
Fichtner, who has a great established relationship with Ben Roethlisberger, suggested that it’s almost the price you pay. “We work hard to try to be better in [the turnover area inside the red zone], but without trying to take away the creativity of an established, veteran quarterback who will pull the trigger”. Roethlisberger was trying to make plays when throwing those interceptions.
Still, Fichtner also didn’t want to take much credit for the unit’s success. “It boils down to execution and the guys have been executing”, he said. “They are comfortable with what we are asking them to do”. Truth be told, the execution has been better this year. I think Haley’s playcalling in the red zone was generally fine, and that execution was the bigger issue more often than not in their previous failures.