The newest rehashing of the QB vs. OC narrative is as tired as it is unrealistic.
Randy Fichtner walked into the Steelers locker room after his usual ritual of looking at the pictures in his wallet of his heroes, Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot and Neil O’Donnell, just like always.
But it wasn’t just like always this time, this time standing perfectly still, right in the middle of the Steelers logo, was his arch-nemesis, the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the man who despite the best efforts of Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians, had won Super Bowls for the Steelers. The man who even vanquished Roger Goodell’s hand picked saboteur, Todd Haley and his incredible arsenal of self-destructing bubble screens just a few years ago.
Roethlisberger looked up, carefully flexing his hand to show off the two ridiculously large rings it bore. Fichtner knew it was serious, they could lock up the Steelers six Lombardi trophies in their cases, but the rings…the rings were here.
“You know you’re not supposed to wear those Ben,” Fichtner said, trying to sound tough but feeling his knees wobble. “I’m not listening to you anymore Fichtner.” Roethlisberger’s voice was strong and slow. “None of us are, we’ve had enough, we aren’t losing this game, we aren’t losing the division, we’re winning. Starting here and now, we’re winning, this is my offense now.”
From the accounts we are hearing about halftime of the Steelers-Colts game, nothing short of a revolution occurred. Ben Roethlisberger took over the offense, drew up a whole new offense on the chalk board, kicked Randy Fichtner out of his job calling plays and restored the franchise’s destiny to reign over the AFC North.
It’s a great story.
It just isn’t true.
We’ve heard this tale before, every single coordinator that Ben Roethlisberger has had, at some point we start hearing about fighting over the offense, the question of who is really in charge, it’s always there.
Ken Whisenhunt thinks Ben Roethlisberger can’t play quarterback, why? Because he ran the ball so much, never mind that the Steelers were built to run the ball and that Whisenhunt had no problem letting Ben air it out in the playoffs facing the #1 seed Indianapolis Colts in 2005, just ignore that and embrace the narrative.
Ben Roethlisberger got Todd Haley fired and took over the offense, promoting his lackey, Randy Fichtner to run the type of offense he wanted. Never mind the Steelers let Haley’s contract expire, the same thing they do every time they get rid of a coach, it was Ben asserting his power over the offensive coordinator, over the head coach and even Kevin Colbert.
And don’t forget when Ben Roethlisberger was so jealous of Antonio Brown’s awards and recognition that he ostracized Brown and sabotaged the 2018 season just to get rid of the otherwise perfectly stable and team-oriented Brown.
And now, in 2020 we have Ben Roethlisberger taking control away from the dictatorial and incompetent Fichtner who maniacally calls plays that don’t work over and over and over.
Just make sure you don’t forget that Ben appointed Randy to that post personally and Randy Fichtner wasn’t even the real offensive coordinator.
None of that is the real truth. There’s elements of truth in all of it, any compelling story has to have something to help it ring true, but we take those little bits of truth and dramatize it into storylines the WWE is jealous of.
And that’s really what it is, it’s drama. We love football, it’s our favorite entertainment, and we add drama to the boring parts to spice it up, because the reality isn’t nearly as exciting.
In reality Maurkice Pouncey challenged the team to have fun, to love the game and not just go through the motions. The team was down, they knew how bad they had been playing, they could feel the season slipping away too. They needed to bounce back emotionally and spiritually before they could bounce back on the field.
Ben Roethlisberger got out the board to show the slight adjustments that his receivers needed to make to beat what they were seeing on defense. You know, something you might expect someone to have to do for them since that room has the least veteran leadership it has had in more than 25 years. Yancey Thigpen took Hines Ward under his tutelage, Hines Ward did the same for Antonio Brown, and for all the crazy Antonio Brown brought, one consistent thing you will hear about him is he shared his knowledge and technique with his team mates. JuJu Smith-Schuster had two seasons with Brown, and one of those turned contentious. Smith-Schuster is in his fourth season, he isn’t going to have a lot of answers to help the younger guys, Ben Roethlisberger stepped up.
The Steelers came out in the second half and played better. The biggest part of that was Ben Roethlisberger. And it wasn’t the play calling. The Steelers ran nothing new in the second half, They ran that double stack pistol formation in week 15. It didn’t work because the line wasn’t blocking well, Roethlisberger was playing poorly, and the overall execution from the offense was bad. It worked in week 16 because Kevin Dotson replaced J.C. Hassenauer at right guard and won his matchup with DeForest Buckner. It worked because Ben Roethlisberger in the second half started using that pocket more, holding the ball a bit longer, stepping into throws and actually looking downfield without worrying about getting hit.
So sure, some reporter claims that some plays told someone that Ben Roethlisberger bested Randy Fichtner in a Tokyo street fight to win the rights to redesign the offense for the second half. It’s drama. It’s creating heat to get clicks and drive revenue. If you like people rewriting sports into professional wrestling level storylines, Pittsburgh has Mark Madden, you can listen to him. No one does a better job of spinning non-stories into amazing amounts of drama than him. There’s a reason his ratings are always great, and it isn’t because he gives his listeners interesting detailed analysis of the Steelers, they come for the drama.
My favorite part of this narrative is the idea that Ben goes no-huddle and draws up plays in the dirt. Just think about that. The offense doesn’t huddle, they go from the end of one play to immediately lining back up, and Ben Roethlisberger then makes up a brand new play and communicates that play to the team while they are lined up with the defense right there.
Yes he’ll call out modifications and audibles, and even go so far as to have to tell Chase Claypool what type of route to run in one instance, but the idea that the Steelers offense runs best by having Ben Roethlisberger yell each route to each receiver and tell the offensive line how to block with the defense listening is just ludicrous. It boggles my mind that fans buy into that and repeat it. Think about it.
The same people who want Fichtner fired because the Colts were calling out the Steelers plays also tend to be the people who think Ben can make up new plays in no-huddle and that’s the best offense for the Steelers. Because having the defense call out your play is far worse than blatantly telling them what it is. . .
Enough of the ranting. Let’s talk about how the offense really works. Ben Roethlisberger and Randy Fichtner design the offense. Roethlisberger is so much a part of the offensive design that Ike Hilliard talked about one of the most important things about his job as receivers coach being to pick the brain of the quarterback so he knows how to better coach his receivers to work with him.
When the Steelers formulate the game plan for the coming week, it involves so much more than Randy Fichtner putting his playbook on the wall and throwing darts at it, Ben Roethlisberger is going to be heavily involved in that planning, as are the position coaches who have spent time scouting the opposing defense to gather ideas to help their players succeed.
During the game they talk, communicating what was seen from the sideline, the press box and the field to get the best idea of what they want to do next.
And the no-huddle, one of my pet peeves is when the no-huddle gets touted as a solution. If the no-huddle offense was a solution Brian Kelly would be in the NFL still. The no-huddle offense is a weapon you use when you have a solution to the defense and you want to keep the defense from getting a chance to talk and find a solution to your new strategy.
The reason no-huddle works is because it is employed when the solution is found. No-huddle isn’t a solution.
And Ben Roethlisberger calling plays? He’s calling plays from the offense he helped design. He’s a seventeen year veteran who has seen a lot of things in his time. he helped design the offense and when he catches a flaw in the opposing defense, he has the power to change a play, go to no huddle, audible routes, whatever he has to do to exploit it.
It isn’t a different offense, although with 17 years of experience with 4 different offensive coordinators he no doubt can adlib plays to his receivers that have worked in the past against what he is seeing, even if they don’t run that exact play. But even then it isn’t drawing up plays in the dirt, but more likely something like, “Run (play name) but Chase, I want you to (insert different route the receiver has practiced many times) instead.
And seriously, if Randy Fichtner wasn’t okay with that he wouldn’t be the offensive coordinator. Ben Roethlisberger did that under Todd Haley, who is famous for getting angry with quarterbacks changing his plays. Randy Fichtner was brought in to work with Ben more, involve him more in the planning and run things that fit with his quarterback. The Steelers were 10-0, then they absolutely stunk for 4 games (still beating the decimated Ravens) before a comeback against the Colts.
That’s the drama, the internal workings of the team are rarely that exciting. So the next time someone tries to sell you a dramatic storyline about how a football team started playing differently, understand they are adding a lot of spice to what is likely a bland situation.