Four Downs: Mason Rudolph at his best when Steelers protect him
The Pittsburgh Steelers have done a good job of protecting their young quarterback. It’s a good thing, too, because Mason Rudolph has struggled when he hasn’t been protected.
According to data compiled by Pro Football Focus, Rudolph has the worst passer rating while under pressure (37.8) of any current NFL starting quarterback who has started at least two games this season. Among all quarterbacks with at least 79 total dropbacks this season, only Luke Falk, Eli Manning and Josh Rosen have lower passer ratings when under pressure.
Rudolph is “under pressure” (as defined by PFF) on 31.6% of his dropbacks, which is in the bottom third rate across the league. He is sacked 10.7% of his dropbacks — one of the lowest rates in the NFL — but interestingly has been hit as he has thrown eight times. Only two quarterbacks have had that happen more.
When Rudolph is “kept clean,” he has the fifth-best passer rating in the NFL (per PFF) at 118.1.
Mason Rudolph was still able to find big plays when under pressure pic.twitter.com/vJHlJf6yBe
— PFF (@PFF) April 23, 2018
2. Minkah Magic
NFL’s Next Gen Stats broke down Minkah Fitzpatrick’s successful tenure so far in Pittsburgh. Best of all from the Steelers’ perspective, the free safety – the man who, on the simplest and most fundamental level is most responsible for limiting deep passes — has turned around the Steelers’ fortunes against the deep pass in a major way. Opponents have a 10.8 passer rating on deep passes (defined as those 20 or more yards downfield) against the Steelers since Fitzpatrick made his team debut in Week 3 — the lowest in the NFL in that time. In the two games before Fitzpatrick was acquired, the Steelers had been allowing a 141.7 passer rating on deep passes — the highest in the NFL in that time. Opponents playing the Steelers completed more deep passes in two games without Fitzpatrick (four, three for touchdowns, none for interceptions) than they have in six games when facing him (three, with no touchdowns and as many interceptions as completions). Next Gen Stats reports Fitzpatrick has lined up at deep safety for 84.7% of his snaps with the Steelers.
Minkah Fitzpatrick's play at safety has had a huge impact on the @steelers secondary since Week 3.@minkfitz_21 has aligned as a deep safety on 85% of snaps with the Steelers (22% with Dolphins) and has helped shut down opponents' deep passing attacks.#HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/9v5FFdO7DV
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 4, 2019
The Steelers elect for a running play on 55.21% of their first-and-10 situations this season; only eight teams have rushed more on that kind of play. Steelers running backs are averaging 4.53 yards per carry on first-and-10, gaining at least 10 yards on 10.3% of those rushes.
When the Steelers pass on first-and-10, they gain an average of 6.09 yards and get a first down 15.4% of those passing plays. Rudolph has a 95.9 passer rating when throwing on first-and-10.
He joins Brees, Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Manning, and Ryan on the active list of players to hit that mark. pic.twitter.com/cXgMDRAp6l
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) October 28, 2019
4. Falling a notch
Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury has already cost him in the NFL’s career passing record annals. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers has leapfrogged Roethlisberger in completions (moving into seventh place all-time) and passing yards (taking over for Big Ben into sixth most in history). Incidentally,Manning’s benching by the New York Giants didn’t come a moment too soon in regard to Roethlisberger’s all-time standing: Manning, who hasn’t played since Week 2, sits just one touchdown pass and 8 passing yards behind Roethlisberger. Big Ben has 363 touchdown passes, seventh-most all-time.
Another Roethlisberger superlative of a different type is about to fall, too. Russell Wilson’s next win as Seattle Seahawks starting quarterback will be the 91st of his NFL career. During the Super Bowl era, Tom Brady (100) and Roethlisberger (90) previously ranked Nos. 1-2 in most victories over a quarterback’s first eight seasons.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .