While the Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to undergo some fairly significant changes this offseason, the reality is that we already saw significant changes being made last offseason, with four coaches departing from the on-field coaching staff for one reason or another and three new names being brought in.
No move was more significant than the decision not to renew the contract of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and to promote quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner from within for the same job. Though he had already been on the staff for 11 years, 2018 was his first at this level in a coordinator position calling plays.
Ordinarily, one would expect that there might be some adjustments to make and issues to work through. According to Ben Roethlisberger, there were, but overall, it would be hard to notice. The team led the league in red zone scoring efficiency and finished with their second-highest scoring total in team history.
Back on Wednesday, when the quarterback made his appearance on 93.7 FM, he was asked if he felt that Fichtner did a good job in his first season at the post. “Absolutely”, he said. “I thought there were growing pains for us in terms of learning each other, learning situational things, and that just comes with a new position and a new guy that we communicate with and call plays, but man, if you look at what we did offensively, I thought it was pretty awesome in terms of moving guys around and some of the injuries that we had at running back and things like that. So I thought it was an awesome first season for Randy and I’m excited for next year with him”.
A point that doesn’t get talked about enough is that he had his All-Pro starting running back taken away from him before he even got a chance to use it, and Fichtner didn’t really miss a beat, as James Conner stepped right in and delivered—until he was injured, of course.
Under his watch, they also threw for more passing yards than anybody else in the NFL. Roethlisberger threw for over 5000 yards and set a new franchise record with 34 passing touchdowns. “That’s an awesome accomplishment for our group, for Coach Randy”, he said, referring to the passing title and the 5000-yard season.
“We improved in a lot of areas on offense. I think our red zone was one of the best in the NFL”, he added. “Our average starting field position [was among the worst], and any time the ball was inside our own 10-yard line, I think Randy set NFL records in terms of getting the ball out or scoring or moving the ball, things like that. A lot of things to be encouraged with”.
I personally am encouraged about what the 2019 season will bring with the offense as well—at least provided that he still gets to work with Antonio Brown. Imagine losing an All-Pro running back and then an All-Pro wide receiver in your first two seasons on the job.