The Pittsburgh Steelers are, in a sense, flying by the seat of their pants this season with a ‘rookie’ offensive coordinator. Though he has been with the team for over a decade and did call plays while a college coach, Randy Fichtner had never done that before in a meaningful game at the NFL level prior to the 2018 season opener.
Nobody has been more aware of his inexperience—nor more critical of it—than Fichtner himself, who has on a number of occasions this season already taken the blame for decisions he has made during games that the team has lost.
A common theme in his self-criticism has been getting away from running the football, which has been most prominent in the two games that they have lost this year, first against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Two and then in Week Four against the Baltimore Ravens.
With the Ravens on deck once again, Fichtner reflected on that loss and admitted that he “probably didn’t stick to giving James [Conner] more opportunities and probably went a little too quickly to ‘just throw the ball’”.
In the two games in which the Steelers have lost, Conner has averaged 8.5 carries for 18 yards, just 2.1 yards per attempt, but also an incredibly miniscule amount of work. That yardage total comes in spite of that fact that they were able to overcome slow starts in both losses to tie the game at halftime.
Unlike in the Chiefs game, in which Kansas City immediately came out in the second half and took the lead back, the Steelers had two possessions in the third quarter before the Ravens scored again, and in fact they only registered field goals from that point on. The last snap that they played in a game with a one-possession deficit came with 10:28 to play in the fourth quarter.
They ran 16 offensive plays in the second half in either a tie game or trailing by no more than six, 12 of which were passes, another being a carry by Ryan Switzer. Conner got just three carries for five yards, including his third and final carry of the second half going for a loss of two yards.
The Steelers have made a concerted effort, at least based on the results, to be more mindful of establishing the run over the course of the past three weeks, and we have seen the results of that. Conner was just named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month, compiling over 350 rushing yards and averaging 175 yards from scrimmage.
I’m willing to bet that he will have more than six carries for 14 yards by halftime this Sunday. Fichtner, and the team as a whole, seems to have learned from their losses.