Thanks largely to forces beyond their control, the 2019 season has already proven to be one of the more unusual ones in recent memory for the Pittsburgh Steelers, with no one factor being bigger than the loss of 16th-year veteran franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He only played six quarters this season before being placed on the Reserve/Injured List with an elbow issue that required surgery.
The consequence of that move meant that they were left with a pair of quarterbacks—one of whom was on the practice squad—who not only had never thrown a pass in an NFL game, but had in fact not even played a snap.
Left over on the depth chart following Roethlisberger at the top is Mason Rudolph, the second-year quarterback whom the Steelers drafted in the third round in 2018. They had a first-round grade on him and only drafted him for that reason, because of the value presented. Despite that, he was inactive for the entirety of his rookie season.
Now they are asking him to run the offense, and that isn’t something that happens overnight, something that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner talked about yesterday when he spoke with reporters about the state of the offense as they make the most of their bye week.
“We were just starting to feel for where Mason was after two games” before he suffered a concussion, he told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You really get a feel for concepts and what they’re comfortable with. That’s a process. That was 13 years in the making with Ben and I, and you’re trying to get that overnight in a game or two. That’s not easy to do”.
13 years between Fichtner and Roethlisberger, starting with the former as wide receivers coach, then quarterbacks coach, and now both the latter and offensive coordinator simultaneously. That was with Roethlisberger on the field and putting the lab tests out in the real world. He hadn’t seen Rudolph throw a meaningful pass until Week Two.
“They’re doing the things they need to do to give us a chance to win”, Fichtner did allow for the offense. “Every game is going to be an improvement for them just with their perspective, seeing different fronts and coverages. I look forward to their growth every week. That will be a steady process all year”.
One thing he noted, when discussing the team’s generally conservative gameplan, is that the Steelers could actually be 4-2 right now, and frankly 4-0 in their past four games, if they had simply done the same thing schematically with better execution. That is: ball security. Key fumbles late in the games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens played a big role in costing them those wins.
That means that, while their margin for error is very slim, what they are doing now is good enough to win games. They have been in position to win every game Rudolph or Devlin Hodges has started.