There were plenty of rough moments from a rough 24-20 Pittsburgh Steelers loss. And Mason Rudolph’s first start won’t be one for the history books. I’m not trying to shine the turd that is this team’s 0-3 start but to look at something positive, just to kick this Monday off, let’s break down his 38 yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson. One that (briefly) gave the Steelers the lead.
Playing quarterback is all about lying to the defense. Primarily, lying with your eyes. Making the defense think you’re going one way and then moving the opposite way. Manipulating defenders, getting them out of position to open up the throwing window.
That’s what Rudolph does here.
On the play, Rudolph gets a single high look. He wants to hit Johnson on a nine (go) route down the left sideline but can’t stare down the route or else the safety, if he takes a good angle, would have a chance to make a play. So on his drop, he moves his eyes to the right, looking off the deep safety and holding him to the far hash.
He knows he wants to throw to Johnson, knows he’ll have single coverage, so this is just manipulating the safety to ensure it’s one on one with the corner.
Once the corner is held, Rudolph flips his shoulders/feet/eyes to the left and fires deep to Johnson. As the broadcast points out, CB Jason Verrett doesn’t play it well. Eyes glued to the quarterback and Johnson is able to separate at the top of his route.
Look from the top-down. I paused the clip mid-way through to avoid the telestration so that’s why you see the slight hiccup in the clip below. You can see the deep safety get held to his spot to open the throw at the bottom.
You can really see Rudolph move his eyes on this replay. Looks the deep safety off to the right, comes back to his left, delivers an on-time throw for the score.
It was also a nice job of identifying the weakness in the 49ers’ defense. Verrett came in for the injured Ahkello Witherspoon. New guy, off the bench, hadn’t played a single snap all season, just as the team did on CB Leon McFadden on the Roethlisberger fake-spike play against Dallas in 2016.
Rudolph won’t take a ton of chances downfield. He’s a less “jump ball” guy than say, Roethlisberger, who trusts his receivers almost to a fault. But Rudolph isn’t afraid to rip it when he gets the right coverage and he did a beautiful job meshing his pre-snap read with post-snap execution.