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Film Room: What To Expect In Randy Fichtner’s Offense

It’s certainly been awhile since we’ve talked about a new offensive coordinator joining the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, it hasn’t happened since I began writing for Steelers Depot all the way back in 2013. So today, we’ll break down what to expect from Randy Fichtner, widely expected to take over for Todd Haley.

Up front, you gotta know a couple things.

1. I don’t expect this offense to dramatically change. One reason why Fichtner was hired was because of his positive relationship with Ben Roethlisberger. The other was to keep the system intact instead of bringing in a brand new scheme that would take time to learn, growing pains to endure, things this offense doesn’t need to deal with in Ben’s final couple of years.

2. It’s hard to find a ton of Fichtner’s offense. He’s been the offensive coordinator at two places: Arkansas State in the late 90s, Memphis in the early to mid-2000s. That makes footage of those teams tough to find. Ultimately, I found three games: Arkansas State vs Oklahoma in 2000, Memphis vs Bowling Green in the 2004 GMAC Bowl, and Memphis vs Tennessee in 2006.

If you have any other full games, let me know in the comments. Or any playbooks, came up empty poking my head around for those, too.

Ultimately, we’ll get the best feel for tweaks to this offense in Latrobe, the preseason, and early portions of the regular season. That, admittedly, makes this article a little less “fun” to write but that’s what we’re working with.

Anyway, let’s dive in. We’re going to break this down into three categories. Formations, pass game, and run game.


Formations

The first thing I thought about Memphis’ offense was how modern it was. 2004, 2006, that was more than a decade ago. But watch either of those Tigers’ games and you felt like it was an offense similar to today.

In 2006, here’s the Tigers opening things up in a 4 WR set, 10 personnel. The announcers saying Fichtner’s offense rotates in wide receivers “liberally.”

Here they are using 20 personnel early in the game. A fullback, running back, and three receivers. Something we didn’t see in Haley’s offense but I like the approach. Teams either stay in base and get a safety/linebacker on the WR or go to sub-package and you have a chance to run it.

So to get it out of the way. In all three games, I saw a FB being used. Don’t expect Roosevelt Nix to go away.

Turn on the 2004 BGSU game and you’ll see something new-wave to the NFL. An Emory & Henry formation. Tackles split out wide in a stacked look. Fichtner opened up the game with the first two plays run out of this formation. Inside zone each time. Sorry for the poor quality – that’s was the “highest” setting.

Will that be brought to Pittsburgh? Maybe we’ll see it a couple times.

Overall, his offenses had a sort of West Coast vibe to it. More timing routes than throwing it deep and when he chucked it long, it usually was off playaction. Definitely used shotgun but some spread sets under center, a hallmark of the WCO. Who knows how much of that is carried over or left to time, again, we’re talking over a decade since he ran an offense, but something to keep in mind.

Passing Game

Here’s the biggest consistency that stuck out over all three games. Fichtner loved to use false keys by pulling a guard on playaction. Saw it eight times over three games. Here’s one example. Watch the LG on each.

And again four years later. LG pulling most of the time. Motion to twin set and #2 runs a deep post across the field for the score.

In Pittsburgh, this wouldn’t be anything new, though maybe something they use more often. Generally on this concept, they pair it with Y seam, like they did here last Sunday.

Under Fichtner, you may see some more deep shots to the receivers off this.

If you hated Haley screens….you’re not going to like this. Ton of them from Fichtner. He also ran plenty of jet sweeps with the receivers and sometimes, combined both ideas. Here’s a slot screen on third and long.

Route concepts were hard to see in the 2000s era standard def, 4:3 viewing. I did see a combination route of #2 running to the flat, #1 replacing on a curl a couple of times.

Run Game

Not a whole lot to add here. I don’t expect the Steelers’ run game to change much. A varied approach under Haley and I don’t see much of that changing now. Maybe a little more outside zone, saw a bit of that, though Fichtner had a young, spry DeAngelo Williams who showed more burst to hit the edge.

And yes, I saw them run a QB sneak. 2nd and 2 in that 2004 game. The Tigers converted.

Wide receivers, especially JuJu Smith-Schuster could continue to be big components of the run game. In Memphis, they got involved in their split zone game and sometimes he’d boot off of it.

Like I said, a fullback was added into the offense.

And here’s an example of his jet sweep.

But bottom line is this for the run game. I don’t think you’re going to notice much of a difference. Especially with Mike Munchak returning.

Final Thoughts

Like I said, as boring as it is to write about, you’re not going to see any dramatic shifts in 2018. I am definitely interested to see some of the new route concepts, I expect some changes there, but we’ll have to wait several months before getting a sense of what is truly different.

You can also look at some things that just didn’t work well last year, independent of Fichtner’s history. More route concepts/combinations in the red zone. Maybe a little more no huddle, freedom for Ben (though under Haley, he did and had both). Maybe pistol is added to the playbook. Munchak wants it; perhaps Haley was the guy holding that back.

Fichtner’s role isn’t to turn the offense on its head. It’s to make it more efficient. If he does that, he’ll have done his job, even if the offense looks similar to what Haley’s done the last six years.

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