The Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to welcome their starting quarterback, Mason Rudolph, back to the fold after missing their last game two weeks ago against the Los Angeles Chargers. And he sounds like he’s ready to welcome back the deep passing game, something that hasn’t been a very consistent presence in Pittsburgh’s offense this year.
Even though he was known to be a prolific deep-ball thrower during his college career at Oklahoma State—and even has his star receiver from those days with him in James Washington—the big throws haven’t come, at least in bunches. He has connected on three long throws, including touchdowns of 43 and 39 yards to rookie Diontae Johnson and a 45-yard flea-flicker to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Rudolph has played about two and a half games as a starter up to this point in his career, admittedly, so it’s entirely reasonable to believe that there continues to be room to grow, both in his own ability and in the offense building around him.
Though he was in the concussion protocol, though, he has been participating in practice the entire time, running the scout team during the week leading up to the Chargers game, and he was cleared from the concussion protocol and returned to first-team reps not long after that. And from what he’s seen on the practice field, he expects to be able to expand on the deep passing game in the second half of the season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can go and can make those plays for us”, Rudolph said of connecting on long throws, via a transcript of his comments earlier in the week. “They’ve made those plays for us in practice the last couple of weeks. I feel really comfortable with about where we are moving forward in that area, and I think you’re going to see a lot more explosion and guys stretching the field moving forward”.
The Steelers do have options on the deep ball, at least in theory, and on paper. Smith-Schuster actually has a pretty good history of catching big passes down the field in addition to creating them on shorter throws, even if they aren’t necessarily on go balls.
Washington, of course, is supposed to be one of those players capable of helping the offense stretch the field. It’s one of the principles qualities for which he was drafted. Donte Moncrief was another played whose role was intended to include participating down the field, though of course we know how that has panned out thus far, and it’s not clear how much longer he will remain on the team.
One thing that needs discussed on this topic: in order to hit on the deep ball, you have to take your shots. Thus far, Rudolph has shown some reluctance in taking his shots, but as he grows more comfortable—and I think he has over the past couple of weeks—one can expect them to start coming at a greater pace.