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Steelers News: Despite hiccups, Ben Roethlisberger happy with Randy Fichtner offense

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Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how after the first year of the Randy Fichtner offense in Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is pleased with the progress the team saw over the course of Year 1 of the Fichtner era.

Let’s get to the news:

Despite ‘growing pains,’ Ben Roethlisberger pleased with OC Randy Fichtner’s first year

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Statistically, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense held relatively steady in 2018 under new coordinator Randy Fichtner from where it was under Todd Haley the previous season. The most important piece of that offense “absolutely” said he gives his endorsement of Fichtner moving forward.

“There were growing pains for us in terms of relating to each other and learning situational things, and those things just come with a new position and a new guy,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his weekly KDKA-FM radio segment Tuesday. “But if you look at how we had to move some guys around and with some of the injuries we had and with new running backs, I thought it was an awesome first season with Randy and I, and I’m excited for next year with him.”

The Steelers finished No. 4 in the NFL in total offense (measured by yardage) and sixth in points; they were third in yards and eighth in points last season. Roethlisberger was the NFL’s passing leader and the Steelers had a pair of 100-catch, 1,000-yard receivers in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

With Le’Veon Bell sitting out the season in a contract dispute and James Conner missing three games because of an ankle injury, the Steelers went down their depth chart at running back.

Was Le’Veon Bell right about Steelers’ championship window?

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The Pittsburgh Steelers were coming off a 13-win regular season with the best offensive trio in the game.

Le’Veon Bell sensed the urgency, and the short life span.

”We understand we have a great group here,” Bell told ESPN in January before the Steelers’ divisional round playoff game. “We don’t know if everybody is going to be back or if we’re going to be that special next year. The time that we do have, we have to make it all count. Everybody in this locker room understands that, so we have to go out there and do it.”

Bell and the Steelers haven’t quite applied that advice, following a stunning playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars with an underwhelming 2018 that has them in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Saying “there’s always next year” is becoming increasingly difficult for a fanbase losing patience and the potent duo of Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger losing precious years.

The championship window isn’t closed, but the wind is getting in.

The “Killer B” trio of Bell, Brown and Big Ben was together for five explosive seasons filled with record-breaking performances yet have just three playoff wins to show for it. The promise of that group will remain unfulfilled as Bell’s year-long holdout clears the path to free agency.

The Steelers will never be in rebuilding mode with Roethlisberger and Brown, who combined for another 100-catch season and 15 touchdowns this year. But with Roethlisbergerr turning 37 in March and Brown turning 31 in July, chances are running out.

And that probably goes for an offensive line that’s still highly productive but doesn’t have a starter under age 28 if counting oft-injured right tackle Marcus Gilbert.

Each curious road loss accentuates that reality, and this year there were two: At Oakland and at Denver.

Sitting at 8-6-1 and hoping the Browns pull off a Baltimore upset just to enter the playoffs has offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner feeling uneasy despite his quarterback’s career season. Roethlisberger is on pace for his first 5,000-yard season and he broke the Steelers’ touchdown record with 33.

”I wouldn’t say (the Steelers are peaking) unless we’re winning,” Fichtner said. “The whole thing is coming back to we’ve got to outscore them no matter what, and we didn’t last week, and we haven’t over the last month and a half. So to me, that’s the most important thing ... the only thing that really matters in the end.

”It’s not going the Steeler way right now, and we don’t have the accumulative wins that we all expect every time we roll the ball out to win a game.”

Steelers face questions on Roethlisberger and Le’Veon (again)

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the season with a 16-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals to finish 9-6-1. Here’s a recap of the season and what’s next:

Season grade: Below-average. This season was well below the Steelers’ standards. They averaged more than 11 wins per game from 2014-17 but made 2018 more difficult with a three-game losing streak over a stretch of AFC West matchups in November and December. Defeating New England for the first time since 2011 was a breakthrough, but in a year when a playoff bye was attainable with more consistent play, the Steelers’ many lapses let the Baltimore Ravens keep pace in the AFC North. Considering the talent across the roster, it’s hard to escape the belief the Steelers could have done more with what they had. The largely lethargic Week 17 performance against Cincinnati highlights that belief.

Season in review: The Steelers faced tumult to start the season as Le’Veon Bell skipped Week 1, a decision that turned into a season-long holdout. Behind a stout offensive line and a proven passing game, tailback James Conner emerged as a legitimate threat. Despite a relatively healthy roster, the Steelers’ 1-2-1 start set the wrong tone for a contender. The Steelers recovered, like they usually do, and the rest of the season featured an amalgam of explosive performances and uneven play. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger earned career highs in touchdowns and passing yards. Young stars such as T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster strengthened their breakout campaigns in year two. But the Steelers consistently ranked near the bottom of the NFL in turnover margin, which sort of defined their season. Going four games without an interception in the second half of the year resulted in three losses during that stretch. They couldn’t dictate the tempo consistently enough, and closing out games was often a struggle.

He said it: ”We can beat anybody. We can also lose to anybody.” -- Steelers guard David DeCastro

Offseason questions

What is the Steelers’ definitive plan at running back? The Steelers technically aren’t done with Bell, a reality that casts a pall over the offseason until a firm decision is made: Transition tag Bell or let him walk into unrestricted free agency. The Steelers could argue the tag should be worth somewhere between $9 million and $10 million, resorting to the slotted 2017 number since Bell skipped a year. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement says Bell deserves 120 percent of his last salary ($14.5 million). The tag would allow Bell to negotiate with other teams with the Steelers having the right to match any offer. But they might want to wash themselves of the Bell saga altogether. In that case, they have Conner and fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels to develop as the future of the position. Both produced in expanded roles this season.

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