The Pittsburgh Steelers were thrilled to see their starting quarterback back out there on the field last night—but probably not as much in the first quarter. In making the fourth start of his career, and in his first game action since suffering a concussion three weeks ago, second-year Mason Rudolph had a lot of rust to shake off before settling into a fine, game-winning performance for Pittsburgh.
Rudolph would finish last night’s game completing 20 of 36 passes, an uncharacteristically low completion percentage, with many of those misses coming early on. He threw for 251 yards, ending the game with two touchdown passes and an interception, though he could have had two.
His first pass of the game, and the Steelers’ second play from scrimmage was a ball that he unnecessarily forced to JuJu Smith-Schuster, with Xavien Howard in position to jump on the ball for the interception. Rudolph had plenty of time to throw, and it was just a really bad decision to even attempt that pass.
He would go 0-for-4 on his first four attempts, though they excluded negated negated receptions of five and 16 yards due to penalties—one against the Steelers, one against the Miami Dolphins.
On second and 20, he forced a jump ball to James Washington. Though the receiver dropped the ball and allowed a defender underneath to scoop it, it was a bad decision to even make that throw. Fortunately for both, the Steelers were spared an interception as the defender stepped out of bounds before securing possession.
Two plays later, after an underneath pass to Vance McDonald to pick up 14, he threw behind Washington on a ball that could have converted on fourth and six.
But he started to pick up after that. By no means was he suddenly playing at a Pro Bowl level, but Rudolph was making better decisions, looking more comfortable, and placing the ball better. He showed a significant uptick in aggression with his willingness to put the ball down the field, and he connected on a few of those throws.
His 45-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson makes it look a bit better. It was third and 20 and the Dolphins blitzed eight, with a pitch-and-catch to the receiver and a downfield block by Washington putting the ball into the end zone. Then again, they would’ve had first and goal inside the five had Johnson not been flagged (questionably) for offensive pass interference) earlier in the drive on a deep ball he was able to catch.
Rudolph was able to pick up multiple third downs with unfavorable distances, easily his best showing in situational football so far of his young career, and a great sign moving forward. He looked largely like a different player following the first quarter, and hopefully one he continues to resemble, improving all the while, going forward.