If you read the headline of this article, notice the title says ‘exploding’ and not ‘imploding’. Yes, that’s right, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is expecting the offense to be more efficient, and just better overall coming off the Week 7 bye and preparing for the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.
There are a lot of reasons to think Fichtner isn’t insane, but right in his thinking. First, Mason Rudolph will be back under center after his concussion, and had a full two weeks to prepare for the rest of the regular season. Second, the offensive line looked like they were finally starting to gel against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6. Finally, it looks as if the unit is starting to get healthy. Players like James Washington (shoulder), Vance McDonald (shoulder), Jaylen Samuels (knee) and even James Conner (quad) look to be on the fast track to not missing a snap on Monday.
So, are they close to exploding?
“I think we’re close.” Fichtner said. “They just haven’t come consistently enough. I don’t know if it’s by design, but we just have to take advantage of the opportunities when it presents itself. I think we’ve got guys that can make plays. I’m always finding ways to get the ball in JuJu’s [Smith-Schuster] hands. You see young 18 [Diontae Johnson] coming on. You see James [Washington] is coming back to us this week. It’s exciting, so I look forward to that.”
But what exactly needs to happen to induce such an offensive explosion, one the fans haven’t seen even when Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback in Weeks 1 and the first half of Week 2?
It all comes down to splash plays...
“I think you do [need explosive plays]. It makes you go the long hard way. You like to say if you want to be proud of something, then I’d say I’d be very proud if you can consistently take 10-, 12- play drives and score. That’s just awfully hard to do. Defenses get paid well and get coached well, and that just doesn’t always happen. Chunks are nice. They help.”
Long runs are nice, but what needs to happen for Mason Rudolph to start having success delivering deep passes down field? According to Fichtner, the run game is where it all starts.
“Last year I would always talk about it. We had different ways to run the ball, and that didn’t necessarily mean it counted as a run. The ball was thrown short that ran long, that consistently gained plus four. To me, those are runs, and it keeps you ahead of the chains. It keeps you ahead in down and distance situations where we can operate better. I think that’s what hurts an offense to a certain degree.
“You know, if you don’t get a lot of reps at it because you’re not converting third downs, then all of a sudden you look up and you’ve had the ball six plays when you’ve only run it twice, maybe three times. That’s probably not enough to say you can or can’t run it that day. So, it’s always going to be about opportunity and touches, for a running back as well. They need them. James [Conner] deserves them. Our other running backs in those situations had been positive with the ball in their hands too. We’ve got to run the football. Our group knows that.”
On paper it seems simple. Running the ball opens up the entire offensive playbook, but at this point and time the ultimate factor should be an offense that can attack you in a multitude of ways. Both with the run, but also through the air. The Steelers are not that offense yet, but Fichtner is hoping the explosion is coming soon.