Understanding Randy Fichtner’s Offense

This offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers was one that saw several changes within head coach Mike Tomlin‘s coaching staff. The most notable change came January 18th, when quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was promoted to offensive coordinator in place of former coordinator Todd Haley, whose contract was not renewed after a disappointing end to the 2017 season. Prior to joining the Steelers organization as a wide receivers coach in 2007, Fichtner was a successful offensive coordinator for the  University of Memphis from 2001 to 2006. During that period of time, the Tigers offense was one of the most prolific in the nation, setting multiple school records for passing yards and total offense. In 2003, the Tigers averaged 32 points per game, and few defenses had answers to stop it.

One the big reasons for Fitchner’s success is his utilization of the spread offense. Though it is heavily used by offenses in the NFL, Fitchner’s version is a little different and complex in many ways.

Elements of Fichtner’s Offense

In general, Fitchner’s offense is a fast-paced spread system, intended on consistently accumulating a large number of yards, eventually resulting in more points. Here are some key ideas about his offense to note:

  • It is a quarterback-centered system – the quarterback is responsible of calling the plays and figuring out what the opposing defense is doing pre-snap. This includes calling audibles if necessary.
  • A greater emphasis is made on the run.
  • Quick passes are key, as the idea is to get the ball out quickly and move the chains.

The Spread Formation

The foundation of Fichtner’s offense is the spread formation. From a formation standpoint, the idea is to render the defense vulnerable by spreading them out horizontally with pass formations, then run the ball. As in any spread offense, he’ll often have three or four-wide receiver sets; thus giving the opposing defense the idea of pass. In the example seen below from a 2005 game against the University of Tennessee Volunteers, Fichtner’s offense is showing a four-wide receiver set. The aspect to take note is the distance between each receiver. Creating this distance forces the cornerbacks to play further away from the line or scrimmage; thus opening holes for the half back. Alternatively, the Tigers quarterback has the option of passing to any of the four receivers aligned on either side. Though it seems elementary, the idea is to deceive, execute and move the chains.

Movement Is Key

Movement plays are a big part of Fichtner’s offense. In addition to creating gaps with the spread formation, the next step is to use different type of motion to throw off the defense. In this example seen in a 2001 against Volunteers, the Tigers use multiple motions. From the snap, the Tigers quarterback hands off the ball to his halfback motioning right. As the Volunteers defense commits to that side, the Tigers halfback flips the ball to the Tigers wide receiver motioning left. The resultant is open space for the wide receiver to run and get the first down.

Which Player Will Benefit From Fichtner’s Offense

Fichtner’s offense is tailor made for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as Haley was often noted for calling plays which did not appeal to him. Fichtner’s quarterback-centric philosophy should now afford Roethlisberger more freedom and control of the offense. One can also expect to see slot receivers utilized much more, as their involvement correlates with the idea of getting the ball out quickly. Players like Juju Smith-Schuster and Marcus Tucker could see themselves getting a lot of touches. One  player who could potentially play a major role in Fichtner’s offense is fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels. As Fichtner is often like to use screen passes in his offense, Samuels was heavily used in screen passes and motion-type plays during his collegiate career with NC State.

With the variety of offensive weapons to their disposal, the Steelers have the potential of reaching a level of offensive efficiency beyond their own expectations. For Fichtner, this season presents a chance to establish himself as a key figure that will result in his offense playing better than they have ever played before.

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