Mason Rudolph called himself a big prep guy coming into his first career start. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said he was a real worker. No matter how much work he put in, how much preparation he had, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers second-year quarterback did not look like somebody ready to lead an offense in the team’s 24-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Despite being the beneficiary of five turnovers, a couple of which gave him the ball in field goal range, Rudolph was only able to muster 20 points of offense. A James Conner fumble with under seven minutes to go ultimately doomed the defense, allowing San Francisco to put together the go-ahead strive, but they also capitalized on an ugly Rudolph interception as well.
In all, he completed 14 of 27 passes for 174 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He averaged just 6.4 yards per play, but two outlier throws stand out. He connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson on two long touchdown throws spanning 76 and 39 yards, respectively.
Remove those two throws, and he completed just 12 of his 25 other passes for 59 yards and an interception. That’s not much more than two yards per attempt on 93 percent of his throws.
One theme was that he was consistently delivering the ball high throughout the afternoon, and arguably the most notable was a substantial miss on an overthrow to Vance McDonald. Despite having no chance, unless he were about four feet taller, at the ball, the tight end reached in the pass’ direction, exposing his midsection, and taking a clean shot from the defensive back in the area, which knocked him out for the rest of the game with a listed shoulder injury.
In fairness to Rudolph, he was making his first career start, and he was doing it on the road. His offensive line struggled, particularly Matt Feiler. He was sacked twice, but under pressure much more frequently than that, including on the play on which he threw a highly ill-advised pass that was intercepted.
His short and intermediate passing was poor fairly consistently throughout, but he was able to make some connections in the second half looking down the field. in addition to the two throws mentioned above—the first of which was mostly yards after the catch, admittedly—he also induced a long pass interference penalty looking for James Washington down the seam. That and the Johnson touchdown came on back-to-back plays targeting Jason Verrett, who just came in as an injury replacement.
Rudolph is going to get better than this, and from this. It was not a good game overall, minus a couple of throws, one of which benefited from a bad angle by the safety. But for now, it’s all we have on him, and what we have was not good enough. Including six points off of five turnovers, those being a pair of field goals on drives that started in field goal range.