When Todd Haley was fired, Steelers Nation celebrated, but its joy was tempered by uncertainty. Yes, Haley had been terrible in the red zone and a putrid situational caller, but he was a fantastic play designer and a mastermind behind some the Steelers’ most successful offenses.
With the Steelers’ decision for Randy Fichtner to take over as Offensive Coordinator, they got a modernized mind which was far ahead of its time when he was at Memphis, and now, he is right in his comfort zone. Fichtner’s mind of efficiency-based play calling is all made for this day and age of high-powered offenses and combined innovation.
Fichtner has shown to not just be efficient, but also incredibly innovative. He has led the Steelers to be top 3 in all efficiency categories, including second in red zone efficiency, which is a huge reason why the Steelers are averaging as many points as they are.
For the first time in his career, Ben Roethlisberger is being asked to get the ball out quickly and efficiently, and it is no secret why his efficiency numbers are so much higher compared to other years. Randy Fichtner has transformed this team into a efficient one that can set up the big play at any time.
For example, on a 3rd and 3 after a short completion to Antonio Brown and a short run by James Conner, he makes an incredible call that not only highlights the situational aspect of his play calling, but the high-percentage nature of it as well.
This play is a fantastic call by Fichtner. Don't need to go for low percentage shots, AB is the first read and then JuJu is an easy safety valve. Love Fichtner's play calling. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/HqatzT3675— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 9, 2018
The Panthers have a nice nine (!) man box here. They will not go and blitz all nine obviously, but six is entirely possible, so Fichtner’s play call against a conservative or aggressive look is one that has to be flexible. Given it is 3rd and 3, the aggressive nature of the defensive alignment is likely to come out, and it does.
So, they run almost a rub / pick play with Washington here. He is going to run that seam up the sideline to take Bradberry out of it, as he has no safety help over the top. The rest of this underneath stuff is underneath zone and aggressive man on the line with the CBs. This is what we call fireman safe in football terms - which essentially refers to the blitzers, and the aggressive man and the zone help over the top. It is incredibly common to get this type of look on short third downs on the opponent’s side of the field.
Fichtner likely knows that a variation of that overarching umbrella is going to be coming. So, a high-percentage play with two easy reads for the blitz that can exploit the zone and over-aggressiveness is key.
If the man is super aggressive, AB’s out route is going to be taken away and JuJu is going to be wide open. If it is more laid back, they will get JuJu locked up, but AB is going to be open with the more relaxed coverage.
Having two flankers, even though AB was a split-end to start off, is key, because it gets JuJu and AB both in space, which immediately makes this a high-percentage play.
Ben’s first read is to hit AB right there on that short flat that becomes a modified 7 route and he turns it into a quick-out. As for the rest, JuJu just has to get Foster in front of him to lead the way and it is an easy imitation of AB’s route, almost like a type of out screen if that would make sense. It is not a shuffle pass, but it is a modified type of screen. The last read is Conner, but he is the safety valve.
What is the point to explain all of this?
All of it adds up to an efficient play call by Fichtner. The situational play calling is absolutely marvelous to watch and see unfold, because it is not easy to make the correct call here all the time, but Fichtner knew what was coming from the jump.
The look he gives out of 11 personnel is a modified bunch set. JuJu is playing so far back as to be a flanker, and AB too is a flanker by the end of the play. That is a rare, innovative set. Rarely do we ever see two flankers on the same play, but with them both being there, it not only leaves the pick play open with JuJu slanting in, but they also having to keep an eye on McDonald over the middle.
One thing you will notice about all of Fichtner’s looks is that they are so versatile, but every option they have is suited for a specific situation. Luckily, he gives multiple looks for each situation.
The set he came up with for this is not only original and seldom used around the league, but it shows his emphasis on high-percentage plays.
This is why Randy Fichtner is so darn good.