Anytime an NFL team wins their first five games of the season, all players and staff deserve credit for the job they have done. Of course, when you ask the coaches, they will give all the credit to the players. People on the outside will credit the head coach. Don't forget about the coordinators.
The Steelers 5-0 start to the 2020 season has been very impressive, and plenty of players and coaches deserve all the credit in the world. When recognizing what has gotten the team to this point, don't forget about Randy Fichtner, Keith Butler, and Danny Smith.
Last year, Randy Fichtner was the favorite scapegoat of Steelers nation. He deserved most of the blame he got. So many fans wanted him fired, and the numbers backed that sentiment up. When Ben Roethlisberger went down for the year, the offense was abysmal. The failures weren't simply due to a lack of talent, either.
There were numerous cases of poor coaching and offensive game planning. Remember that godforsaken wildcat? Many fans speculated that if it weren't for his relationship with Roethlisberger, Fichtner wouldn't have kept his job as offensive coordinator. But he's still employed, and the offense looks as good as it's looked since the 'Killer B' years.
Now that the offense is playing well, fans are skipping over Fichtner and giving all the credit to new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada. There's no denying that Canada's influence is visible all over this offense. The team's use of pre-snap motion is new and has been extremely effective.
Canada absolutely deserves some credit for the offensive performance this year, but so does Fichtner. If you want to dog Fichtner when the offense looks sloppy and isn't playing well, at least be consistent and give him some credit when they look great.
Roethlisberger is taking care of the ball. He's completing passes at a high rate. The team has scored 26 or more points in each of their first five games for the first time in team history. Through five games, the offense has run through a different skill position player in each game. They are running the ball more effectively than they have in years. Any other offensive coordinator would at least get a little credit for this kind of turnaround from one season to the next. Let's show Randy Fichtner his fair amount of appreciation.
Remember back when the Steelers had the league's best offense and their defense consistently let them down? Keith Butler wasn't impressing anyone as a defensive coordinator back then.
Last season, he started to turn his reputation around. The major criticism of Butler is that he has only coached good defenses when he had all the talent in the world to work with. That's fair, but it doesn't take away from the job Butler has done with the talent he has. In 2019, the Steelers were a top 3-5 defense in the league. So far this year, they're widely considered the best.
Keith Butler deserves credit for the quick adjustments he makes on a game-to-game basis. Look no further than this past week's game with the Browns. Coming into the game, there were a few areas of concern for the Steelers defense. They were missing too many tackles and couldn't get off the field on third down. So what did they do against the Browns? The Steelers missed only five tackles in the game and held the Browns to 1/12 on third down conversions. Coaching deserves a lot of credit for recognizing the problems and making it a point of emphasis to get them fixed.
Butler also has a good track record with individual players in the past few years. Last year, Stephon Tuitt went down with a season-ending injury, and many thought the defense would take a hit. Instead, Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu stepped in, and the defense didn't miss a beat. This year, Alualu continues to be a force, especially against the run. In his tenth season, the former first-round pick is having a career year under Keith Butler.
Steven Nelson is another great example. The Steelers signed him after a poor 2018 with the Chiefs. Statistically, he was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league that year. Last year, he transformed into one of the best in the league. Nelson has struggled a bit this year, but he's still light years ahead of where he was in Kansas City. Butler deserves at least some credit for that, too.
Even Danny Smith is doing a phenomenal job this year. For the past several seasons, the Steelers special teams units have all been towards the bottom of the league. They would constantly miss tackles on punts or kickoffs, get called for penalties on returns, and set the offense up with terrible field position. This year, something has changed.
Part of that has to do with personnel. Adding Ray-Ray McCloud as a returner and having guys like Derek Watt, Jordan Dangerfield, and Alex Highsmith on special teams surely doesn't hurt. The Steelers currently rank 11th in the NFL in yards per punt return and fifth in yards per kickoff return.
On the flip side, the Steelers are allowing 7.1 yards per punt return (16th in the league) and 18.8 yards per kick return (9th). There definitely is still some room for improvement, especially on punts. Regardless, all four phases of special teams have improved since last season. The biggest change is that penalties and missed tackles are down. Penalties on special teams can be a killer in the battle for field position. Avoiding those silly penalties go a long way in helping out both the offense and the defense.
Overall, the Steelers coaching has been phenomenal this year. Mike Tomlin is as good as ever and is definitely towards the top of the Coach of the Year discussions. And the players are balling out; they deserve their fair share of credit, too. But don't forget about the assistant coaches.
A head coach is only as good as his staff. Butler, Fichtner, Smith, and the rest of the Steelers coaching staff have done a phenomenal job this year. With the talent they have on the field and the coaching staff behind them, it's no wonder the Steelers are off to such a hot start.