So why is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger planning to park his rear end on the other side of Art Rooney’s desk and ask hard questions about the future of the offense?
It could be that Roethlisberger wants to ensure that quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner replaces Bruce Arians as the next offensive coordinator of the Steelers.
“When I get back, I’m going to go up to Mr. Rooney’s office and ask him what he wants from me, what he wants from this offense, because I think that’s a viable question for him,” Roethlisberger said recently. “He’s our owner and our boss, so I really would like to know kind of what he wants and where he sees our offense going because I’d like to tell him where I see us going.”
Roethlisberger surely sees the offense going toward Fichtner, who has joined Ben in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl and who has worked with the quarterback since 2007, when coach Mike Tomlin hired him. Fichtner previously ran a spread offense at Memphis, and Peter King explained last night on NBC SportsTalk that Fichtner was instrumental in helping Roethsliberger reintegrate into the roster after a four-game suspension to start the 2010 season.
And so the deeper question is whether Rooney wants to change the offense, or whether he simply wanted to change the coordinator. If it was a matter of dumping Bruce Arians and promoting Fichtner, the move probably would have happened by now.
Some may wonder why Rooney would possibly want to retreat to a more traditional Steelers attack — play great defense, run the ball extensively, and pass selectively not extensively. That would seem to be an unusual decision, given the presence of three very good young receivers: Mike Wallace, 2011 team MVP Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders.
But here’s the thing. Receivers who catch a lot of passes eventually command a lot of money. So if the Steelers continue to stretch the field, it could force them to stretch their wallet and/or salary cap in order to keep the pieces in place. Competent running backs, generally speaking, are much cheaper, more interchangeable, and far easier to find.
Rooney offered no concrete clues during a recent interview with Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola when commenting on the fact that the two Super Bowl teams have quarterbacks who passed for more than 10,000 yards combined this season and defenses that landed near the bottom of the league.
“There’s no question the league is changing and the league’s always evolving,” Rooney said. “And there’s no doubt that I think we’ve seen quarterback play in general this year at maybe the highest level we’ve ever seen it, from a number of players. And so number one I think we’re fortunate to have a lot of very good quarterbacks in the league right now. Number two, the rules have changed to allow more prolific passers. And so I think that’s what we’re looking for for our quarterback, to be up there with the elite quarterbacks and to have that kind of production. And so I think you have to recognize all those facts.
“The other side of the coin is I think if you look at these playoffs so far, we’re not seeing teams scoring 30 and 40 points a game. And so I think you have to remember what playoff football is all about. Defense still is a big part of the game. And the games that we’ve seen for far in the playoffs, the defenses have made big plays. And as I say, the scoring has been fairly consistent with past playoffs. And so I think the game is evolving, but maybe not to the degree that some people would like to play it.”
Apart from the fact that the Giants scored 37 at Lambeau Field and the Pats scored 45 against the Broncos, who scored one point less than 30 against the Steelers, and the 49ers and Saints combined for 68 points and the Saints and Lions cominbed for 73 points, Rooney seems to be struggling to reconcile the recent explosion in offense with the time-honored notion that defense wins championships.
Of course, there’s also a chance that Rooney wants to continue to stretch the field, but that he doesn’t believe Fichtner is the right guy to orchestrate the attack. Either way, these decisions about the future of the Steelers offense seem to be coming not from the top of the coaching staff, but from the top of the organization. And it’ll be interesting to see whether Roethlisberger likes what he hears when he plops his caboose in Art Rooney’s office.