Mason Rudolph got off to the roughest of starts Monday night. By game’s end, everyone forgot about how half of Steelers’ Nation wanted to bench him for Duck Hodges.
Physically, Rudolph was all over the place against the Miami Dolphins. Poor footwork, throwing off his back foot. Ball placement that was inconsistent, missing gimmie throws. Throws that lofted in the air that landed in arms of awaiting Dolphins’ defenders.
But mentally, he was rock solid. Not only with his toughness, putting those bad plays behind him, but how he manipulated Miami’s secondary. Nowhere was that more evident than his 26 yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
On the play, Miami is playing a Cover 1 defense. Man coverage with a single high safety. The Steelers come out in a 2×2 look with Smith-Schuster aligned slot left to the top of the screen. He’s running a slot fade to the left sideline. It’s 1v1 coverage against backup corner Chris Lammons, a UDFA in his second year of football. That’s the matchup you want to attack.
Now it’s all about making sure it’s one-on-one and the safety can’t make an impact on the throw.
So on the snap, Rudolph looks to his right on his drop. That keeps the single high safety in his spot. As Rudolph hitches up, he flips to the left, knowing JuJu has the one-on-one matchup, and fires it downfield.
Look at it below. Sorry the video is a little choppy, that’s on my end and not yours (still working out the bugs in this new program I’m using), but I think it illustrates things well.
Here’s a look at it from the ESPN aerial view. All about holding that deep safety, the one the broadcast’s circled, so he can’t drive on the ball. If you stare down that throw or declare your intentions pre-snap, the safety’s got a chance to make a play.
This isn’t the first time Rudolph’s done this either. He held the deep safety on his TD to Diontae Johnson back in Week 3 against San Francisco, again attacking a good matchup versus a weak cornerback. Watch him look right then come left to hit DJ for the score.
I’m not going to pretend that’s the most advanced thing a quarterback can do but it highlights how well put-together Rudolph is above the neck. What he lacks in elite physical tools, he’s got an average arm, below average mobility (his mobility within the pocket has shown improvement, though), he makes up for in his ability to manipulate defenders into creating throwing windows.
When his mechanics are sound, he’s able to make some big-time plays. Heck of a catch by Smith-Schuster on this one, the pass is a little underthrown, but Rudolph helped make that a true jump ball situation.