Tim Benz: Steelers’ Mason Rudolph gets little support in 1st home start
Thanks for the support, fellas.
In Mason Rudolph’s first start for the Steelers at Heinz Field — a 17-7 preseason victory Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs — Xavier Grimble dropped what could’ve been a first down.
Donte Moncrief fumbled after a completion on the first play of a drive.
James Conner bobbled a ball he eventually caught that could’ve gone for a bigger play.
Neither Maurkice Pouncey nor David DeCastro started on the offensive line.
Rudolph got sacked and had to elude pressure often. The offense committed three penalties.
Then, the second-year quarterback got benched before he was allowed to run the hurry-up offense with 1 minute, 4 seconds left in the first half.
So if you were waiting to see what kind of picture Rudolph could paint when it comes to life without Ben Roethlisberger, he wasn’t given the best canvas.
“We kind of hurt ourselves early on,” Rudolph said after the game. “Maybe I wasn’t aggressive enough. But we worked through it.
“There were just some miscues, self-inflicted. But once we got out of our own way, we moved the ball well.”
Rudolph ended the night 10 for 15 for 77 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
He did lead a long touchdown drive, though. And almost all of his production came during that stretch of 8:06 in the second quarter.
It was a familiar face who helped jumpstart the action.
“James made a great play. That’s who he is on third-and-long,” Rudolph said.
Rudolph was speaking about James Washington, his former teammate at Oklahoma State.
Washington, who turned in an 84-yard effort on four catches in the preseason win over Tampa last week, didn’t enter the game until the second quarter.
Backed up on his 10-yard line, Rudolph hit his 2018 draft classmate for 22 yards on a third-and-11.
“The game was going pretty slow,” Washington said. “So on the sideline, guys just kept saying that we just needed that one play to get things going.”
Two plays later, Washington stretched and hauled in a pass while keeping his feet inbounds along the Steelers sideline.
The two connections keyed a 14-play, 89-yard march that — mercifully — consumed over eight minutes of the second quarter.
The Chiefs would answer with a TD drive of their own, leaving 1:04 left in the half for Rudolph to work some hurry-up magic.
Except coach Mike Tomlin elected to give the drive to Josh Dobbs instead.
Once more, Washington made a huge catch for his quarterback, with a 40-yard gain on fourth down. But the drive stalled, and the Steelers turned it over on downs.
Dobbs got an immediate reprieve, though, when the Chiefs fumbled on first down, and Steelers linebacker Tuzar Skipper recovered it.
Unfortunately for Dobbs, he threw an interception in the end zone two snaps later.
“We had a drag route, and I just missed him,” Dobbs said. “If I put it on him, we probably score. It was a big play. It could have been a big momentum builder to go into the half.”
Much like last week, Dobbs made a few impressive plays with his legs. He also had a touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson ripped off the board thanks to an awful offensive pass-interference call.
So, like Rudolph, Dobbs’ stat line of 6 for 11 for 95 yards and an interception probably deserved to look a little better.
The debate over who should be Roethlisberger’s backup remains unanswered. In his postgame news conference, Tomlin was asked if Rudolph separated himself from the other backup quarterbacks.
“Not as we sit right now,” Tomlin responded.
But the organization obviously has bigger plans for Rudolph than Dobbs. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have drafted him in the third round last year with Dobbs already on the roster.
Plus, if growth and development were needed before the team allowed itself to elevate Rudolph in front of Dobbs, it is starting to witness that.
The failures of the offense during Rudolph’s drives Saturday night were more a result of spotty play from teammates.
Also, Rudolph kept numerous plays alive by escaping the rush while keeping his eyes downfield. We didn’t see much of that last year. His footwork was a focal point in offseason development, and it’s showing.
“I feel more comfortable outside of the pocket, moving around, trying to give our guys a chance when the play breaks down,” Rudolph said.
Getting too deep into the backup-QB morass can be pointless. After all, if Roethlisberger is lost for an extended stretch, the 2019 campaign could end quickly anyway.
I’m sure the coaches would’ve loved to see Rudolph render the discussion moot Saturday night.
Too bad he didn’t have more help to do so.