by Mike Pelaia, For New Pittsburgh Courier
At 1-4, the Steelers find themselves in quite a hole. That hole may not be insurmountable just yet but the Steelers will need to start their uphill climb this coming week against the Los Angeles Chargers.
With Mason Rudolph almost certainly out of the upcoming matchup, the charge will need to be led by Devlin Hodges. More importantly, it will need to be led by Randy Fichtner, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, and how he prepares Hodges and the rest of his offense.
I’ve been very hard on Keith Butler and his defense over the last several seasons but since the team added Minkah Fitzpatrick, his defense has been a turnover-creating, quarterback-pressuring, sack machine.
Obviously recognizing the loss of Ben Roethlisberger is a major blow, I still firmly believe this poor start falls on the shoulders of Fichtner and his clear inability or unwillingness to put together a quality game plan for the players that are taking the field.
The team, even without Big Ben, is too talented to be 1-4. Yet Fichtner has put them in this position. He hasn’t really let Rudolph throw downfield as often as he could or should. Against the Ravens, prior to the injury, Rudolph had some success throwing it beyond 10 yards. He proved he could do it. I understand the need for some “safer” play calls, and if Fichtner wants to run some screens and a touch pass play here and there, fine, I can accept that. Yet, to call a wildcat inside of your own 20, which resulted in an interception thrown by Jaylen Samuels and allowed the Ravens to score a touchdown…or to call the wildcat again on second-and 1 inside the Ravens 10, which resulted in a five-yard loss and ultimately a field goal, is unacceptable.
Those are just two examples where Fichtner’s play-calling cost the Steelers 11 combined points. For those of you with short memories, they lost by three on Oct. 6, 26-23.
As they move forward most likely with Hodges, for at least this week, if not beyond, Fichtner needs to let the kids play. Hodges played well in the limited action he had against the Ravens and he can be put in the position to succeed against the Chargers this Sunday night as well. Should he be expected to play as well as Big Ben or even Rudolph? No, he’s a third-string quarterback for a reason. But Fichtner is paid to set him up for success, not failure. Will Fichtner allow Hodges to succeed against the Chargers or will he dink and dunk him into three-and-out situations? That, to me, is the real question.
It would be nice to see the utilization of the running game to the tune of 30 carries against Los Angeles. When you have a defense that is playing as well as the Steelers are right now, one way to help them, and your young quarterback out is by RUNNING THE FOOTBALL! No, not via gimmick-type plays like the wildcat but by actually pounding the ball with your Pro Bowl running back, James Conner, up the middle, controlling the clock and setting up short-yardage situations. The Steelers had some success against the Ravens, running the ball to an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Conner was only given the ball 14 times. He hasn’t been in a rhythm all season long. You know why? Fichtner isn’t giving him the chances. Conner can handle 20-25 carries a game. Yet, he’s only averaging 11.6 carries through the first five weeks. He has yet to amass 200 yards on the season! Is that on Conner or the offensive line, like many want to say it is? No, it’s on Fichtner, plain and simple. If you’re not given the chances, you can’t make the plays.
Fichtner is failing this team and it’s easy to give him a pass when his future Hall of Fame quarterback goes down for the season; but if they were losing games and he was calling plays to help this team win, I’d give him that pass. That’s not happening here. He’s not even giving this team the chance to succeed. He’s being cautious, gimmicky and stupid and the team is 1-4 because of it. If he doesn’t do something different this week heading to Los Angeles, this team is staring at a 1-5 record and a long plane ride home, which to me, should be Fichtner’s last plane ride with this team.
Follow @NewPghCourier on Twitter https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier