Parker Abate, @parkerabate
It is not a secret that Steelers fans have put Randy Fichtner on the hot seat for most of his time as Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator. Football is a team game and everyone deserves a little blame here and there for certain struggles.
With that said, last night’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals got me thinking about certain issues surrounding this offense since Fichtner became the offensive coordinator in 2018. The constant drives resulting in three and outs last night against the Bengals were hard to watch. The offense had absolutely zero rhythm and looked completely lost.
I decided to dive into this a little more and look at the Steelers first offensive possession of every single game since Fichtner has been the OC. Football games can be won and lost by setting a tone early. This is something the Steelers have seriously lacked with or without Ben Roethlisberger under center. Warning: the numbers you are about to read are correct and extremely alarming. I knew I was not going to like what I found, but this is a horrible trend that needs to come to an end and soon.
Dating back to the beginning of the 2018 season, the Steelers have played 46 games including last night. The numbers below represent how each first offensive possession ended.
27 Punts (59%)
8 Turnovers (17.4%)
6 FG attempts (13%)
5 Touchdowns (10.4%)
The Steelers have a total of 47 points on the first drive since 2018. I’m not great at math, but that’s about 1 point per first drive. That is not good. Is there a trend when we score a touchdown on the first drive? You betcha. The Steelers are 4-1 since 2018 when they score a touchdown on their first offensive possession of the game, the only loss being a 33-30 shootout against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Now here is the worst stat of them all. Drum roll please. 18 of the 27 drives that resulted in a punt were three and outs. A team has all week at practice and script it’s first drive; or at least it’s first few plays. The fact that 39.1% of the offense’s first drive in the Fichtner era has led to a three and out is astounding.
I really don’t care who is at quarterback. To go three and out that many times on your first offensive possession is abysmal.
Let’s go back to a 2018, 17-10 win versus the New England Patriots. The Steelers began the game with a 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 6:20 of the clock and kept Tom Brady on the sideline. The Steelers only scored 10 points the rest of the way, but that first drive set a tone that carried throughout the game.
How about earlier this season beginning the game against the Tennessee Titans with a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 9:20. The Steelers ended up scoring on the next three possessions after that due to a worn down Titans’ defense.
That was the only opening drive touchdown this season and the first since Week 15 against the Patriots in 2018. Yea, that’s bad; not a single opening drive touchdown all of 2019.
For reference, in a smaller sample size, the Atlanta Falcons (4-10) have scored four touchdowns and kicked four field goals on opening possessions this season. That resulted in a total of 40 points just in 14 games this year. The Steelers have 13 points on opening drives this year and only 47 total points since 2018 as previously stated above. Again, that is bad. The Falcons have scored on 57% of their opening drives this season while the Steelers have punted 64% of the time in 2020. I don’t even want to run the numbers for the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers.
This brings up the question, is this a Randy Fichtner problem? Or do the Steelers not have the playmakers on offense to get the job done including Roethlisberger? Four of the five opening drive touchdowns came in 2018. Who did the Steelers have back then? An All-Pro, difference-maker in Antonio Brown paired with a Pro Bowl running back in James Conner and a much better offensive line.
Many are to blame. Fichtner has to be at the top of the list. The Steelers have played down to competition and lost big games over the last few years due to the inability to set the tone early and often. This trend does not feel like it is going to change any time soon, but if the Steelers want a shot at any postseason run, it sure needs to.
Who do you think is to blame? Let me know in the comments below!