Pittsburgh Steelers second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph made his first career NFL start Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers on the road and the former third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State completed 14 of his 27 total pass attempts for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. If you do the math, Rudolph had 13 pass attempts that he failed to complete in that game so in this post I will attempt to add some context to each one of them.
#1 – 1Q – PIT-3-5-PIT 25 (5:43) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short left to 18-D.Johnson. – DISTANCE 3-yards
Rudolph’s first incompleted pass against the 49ers came during the team’s second offensive possession. It was a quick slant to wide receiver Diontae Johnson. While the ball maybe could have gotten out a tad quicker, Johnson did appear to let up on the route and made a business decision of sorts with the linebacker waiting for him in the next window. Johnson alligator armed this throw and it did hit his hands. It’s hard to rule this a drop for Johnson and hard to place all the blame on Rudolph at the same time. These are two young players and hopefully the timing on quick slants such as this will improve.
#2 – 1Q – PIT-1-10-SF 13 (3:34) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short left to 19-J.Smith-Schuster. – DISTANCE 16-yards
Rudolph’s second incompletion came inside the red zone and on a first down. This post throw to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was a little long and hot up the seam. Smith-Schuster never had much separation on this route to boot and thus this would have needed to have been a perfect throw to give the wide receiver a slight chance of making a catch.
#3 – 2Q – PIT-2-5-PIT 24 (13:30) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete deep left to 89-V.McDonald. DISTANCE 19-yards
This second-down miss from Rudolph to tight end Vance McDonald was costly in several ways. First, Rudolph threw way too high to an open McDonald underneath what looked to be a cover-3 shell. Two feet lower and McDonald likely makes this catch. If the misfire wasn’t bad enough, McDonald took a big hit while attempting to go up for this high pass and it resulted in him suffering an injured shoulder. He left the game a play later and never returned, unfortunately. Rudolph should’ve had this one on the money.
#4 – 2Q PIT-3-5-PIT 24 (13:25) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short right to 18-D.Johnson. DISTANCE 7-yards
Rudolph’s next incompletion came on the next play, a third-down and 5. On this speed-out to Johnson, the rookie wide receiver appeared to have let up some on his route after coming out of his break. Had Johnson ran through the entire route, there’s a good chance he makes a contested catch right at the sticks for a first down. As we saw on Rudolph’s first imcompleted pass of the game, the timing and execution between these two young players must improve moving forward.
#5 – 2Q – PIT-1-10-PIT 7 (11:25) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short middle to 30-J.Conner. DISTANCE 3-yards
Rudolph’s fifth incompleted pass of the game appeared to be a failed check-down to running back James Conner. On this play, Rudolph was under heavy pressure by the time he released the football and it resulted in a very off-target throw with zero chance of being completed.
#6 – 2Q – PIT-2-10-PIT 7 (11:20) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short middle to 85-X.Grimble. DISTANCE 4-yards
Incompleted pass No. 6 for Rudolph came on the very next play which wound of being a zone spot curl pass to tight end Xavier Grimble. This pass was right above Grimble’s head and went right through the hands of the tight end for a drop.
#7 – 2Q – PIT-1-10-SF 42 (2:00) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short right to 19-J.Smith-Schuster (25-R.Sherman). DISTANCE 10-yards
Rudolph’s seventh incompleted pass against the 49ers came with two-minutes left in the first half and on a first and 10 from the 49ers 42-yard-line. It’s a 12-yard comeback to Smith-Schuster against a cover-3 shell and the 49ers defenders read it perfectly. Rudolph is probably lucky that this pass wasn’t ultimately intercepted by 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman as he almost beat Smith-Schuster to the catch point.
#8 – 3Q – PIT-1-15-PIT 32 (13:34) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete deep left to 18-D.Johnson. DISTANCE 33-yards
Rudolph finally took a deep shot down the sideline early in the second half and it was a good decision on his part with the 49ers being in man with one deep safety cheating to the field side. The deep pass from Rudolph ti Johnson was about 4 yards too long. Johnson was able to get on top of the 49ers cornerback while the football was in the air but with that noted, it would’ve taken a shorter and more precise throw from Rudolph to completed this one. Rudolph probably could have held this football a quarter of a second longer and thrown it a few yards deeper than he actually did. Regardless, it was just a long incompleted pass.
#9 – 3Q PIT-2-15-PIT 32 (13:28) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass short right intended for 19-J.Smith-Schuster INTERCEPTED by 24-K.Williams [91-A.Armstead] at PIT 42. – DISTANCE 10-yards
Rudolph’s ninth incompleted pass on Sunday wound up being intercepted and it was a very poor decision on his part to throw back to the field to Smith-Schuster after avoiding pressure to his right. This turnover resulted in the 49ers scoring their first touchdown of the game.
#10 – 3Q – PIT-1-10-PIT 22 (9:11) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short right to 13-J.Washington (25-R.Sherman). DISTANCE 10-yards
On the ensuing offensive possession, Rudolph threw his tenth incompletion of the game and this one was targeted for Washington, who had run a 12-yard square-in against a cover-3 zone look and in front of Sherman. As for this pass by Rudolph, it looked to be on the money and just over the outstretched hand of a leaping linebacker. Despite leaping and getting both hands on the football, however, Washington had it go right through his attempted catch effort for a drop.
#11 – 3Q – PIT-3-5-PIT 27 (8:26) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short left to 19-J.Smith-Schuster [99-D.Buckner]. Penalty on PIT, Illegal Formation, declined. – DISTANCE 6-yards
Rudolph’s eleventh incompletion of the game came as a result of him getting rid of the football while he was being hit by three of the 49ers defensive players. It’s a wonder he even got this pass off to Smith-Schuster and it had zero chance of being completed to the crossing wide receiver. Even if Rudolph would have managed to complete this pass, it would have been wiped out by an illegal formation penalty so essentially this incompletion doesn’t matter other than it would’ve given another third and long opportunity.
#12 – 4Q – PIT-1-10-PIT 22 (1:09) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short right. DISTANCE 0-yards
Rudolph’s next to last incompleted pass of the game came very late in the contest and during what would be the final offensive possession. On this incompleted first down pass, Rudolph threw the football away out of bounds after being forced out of the pocket to his right to avoid pressure.
#13 – 4Q – PIT-4-12-PIT 20 (:41) (Shotgun) 2-M.Rudolph pass incomplete short left to 13-J.Washington (29-J.Tartt). DISTANCE 19-yards
Rudolph’s final completion of the game was an off-target pass to Washington to the left side against a deep zone coverage. The pas was thrown between three defenders and too far out in front of Washington. A pass more to the left would’ve have given Washington a better shot at a catch but even had he caught it, he was probably facing a pretty good wallop from the 49ers safety.
Summary: Two of Rudolph’s 13 incompleted throws should go down as drops by receivers and an argument that his first one to Johnson can be made that that one should be a drop as well. The out route miss to Johnson is also a pass that the wide receiver probably could have helped his quarterback more on. Two of Rudolph’s other incompletions were passes he got rid of right as he was getting hit and another one was a clear throwaway. Make not mistake, Rudolph missed some throws on Sunday that he should have made and the lone interception he had was a very, very poor decision on his part. Obviously Rudolph has room to grow as a passer but overall, his tape from Sunday wasn’t as awful as some make it out to be when you consider what all he was asked to do and what the all-22 shows.
Below is Rudolph’s full passing chart from the Steelers Sunday loss to the 49ers via NextGenStats.