Updated: Dec 20, 2020
(Photo by Diamond Images/Getty Images)
The Steelers' receivers have had 19 drops in their last three games and the offense overall has scored 19 points or fewer in each of those three games. The offense is in a rut right now and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner doesn't believe defenses have figured them out like players from the Washington Football Team suggested after they beat the Steelers, 23-17, on Dec. 7. Fichtner thinks it just comes down to execution.
"If you're gonna throw the football, you gotta catch the football," Fichtner said on Thursday in a Zoom interview with the media. "We talk about running the ball and efficient runs are 4-plus (yards). If we're gonna throw short and have the opportunity to run long, the short aspect of that has to be caught for 4 and whatever we get after that is bonus. That's just kinda keeping you on schedule. I wouldn't say (defenses have) caught onto it; it's just a matter of we gotta make our plays."
The Steelers game against the Baltimore Ravens and Washington were altered due to the COVID-19 outbreak within the Ravens' organization. It was an odd week with the Steelers-Ravens game being postponed three times and it was finally played on Dec. 2 -- a Wednesday with a 3:40 p.m. kickoff. The Steelers had a short week to prepare for Washington with playing on Monday at 5 p.m. and it followed with another short week to get ready for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night. Fichtner thinks having a normal week of practice, plus the extra day with playing on Monday night will help the Steelers get back to the fundamentals and start connecting on more deep passes.
"Whatever you missed in that little three-week time of walk-through, playing not playing, games being moved, I think back to just repetition of throwing and catching for our guys," Fichtner said. "That’s not an excuse. If there would have been one area you would have backed off of that, it would have been potentially throwing the ball down (the field), deep balls. Whether you are talking about big-ins or you’re talking about posts or you’re talking about gos. Having this week where we actually go back to a semblance of a real week, we worked on that yesterday. We will continue that today. We get a couple more good days of practice, and it will be an area of emphasis."
Ben Roethlisberger had just one completion for 20 yards or more against the Bills and threw a deep ball intended for James Washington that was underthrown and picked off by Bills' cornerback Levi Wallace in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger's hasn't been very accurate on deep balls this year and Fichtner is hoping it's something they can fix with three games left in the regular season and the playoffs on the horizon.
"We'll throw deep balls today. We'll do it in individual (periods) and there won't be a defender on them and we won't tangle anyone's legs up and be falling down 30 yards down the field," Fichtner said. "But it does give you that sense of timing and rhythm again and, potentially, just the idea of seeing the throws and catch and the adjustment by a receiver.
"We know we have to get back to that. We know that in any one given year since I've been here the opportunity to throw the ball past the sticks in possession downs is critical to us. And being able to take shots on first and second down has to be completed at a greater rate."
The Steelers have the players to stretch the field and it's not like Roethlisberger isn't capable of completing deep passes. In Week 2 against the Denver Broncos, Roethlisberger completed an 84-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool. He also completed a 46-yard pass to Diontae Johnson in 21 mph wind in Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I would say that (Ben Roethlisberger) is more than capable of throwing the ball down the yard and making plays," Fichtner said. "We have enough guys that can actually go up and make a play. I think we have probably done it less than most. Just those numbers alone might say that and that might be an emphasis for us moving forward. I’m not afraid to throw it deep. I think a couple weeks back, we started the game in Washington, and we are going to attempt to throw it down the yard. It can be as early as the first play and definitely can be the last play. It’s something that we have to keep working and getting better at because they create chunks.
"Chunks are kind of what you need to sustain drives. That’s where I think we may be missing right now. And you’re not going to create a chunk play if you are throwing short and dropping a potential run long. I look at some of the short balls we throw, “dink-and-dunk” type balls, a lot of those balls come out running, and they become chunk plays. If we are not making those plays consistently, then you are taking away another opportunity for a chunk."
Fichtner is looking for two things from the offense down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason -- balance and consistency.
"We'd love to be more balanced," Fichtner said. "We'd love to be able to run it when we want to run it, throw it when we want to throw it and execute in the possession downs and red zones and be consistent. I think what gets disappointing is two weeks ago we were inconsistent in the red zone, last week we were consistent in the red zone; we just weren't down there enough. Three weeks ago we were really great on third down and then last week we weren't good on third down.
"We don't, probably, have to be the best at any one of those but we can't be the worst once and then the best the next day. Consistency has to start coming through. I would bet if we went back even early in the season it wasn't always like that either, just consistent in every facet of the game. But it felt like you were more medium than you were hot and cold. What's missing right now is just maybe a little more consistently catching the football."