No quarterback comes without their own tendencies. These tendencies may be good or bad but there is a good chance that the quarterback in question is going to be known by his tendency.
Take Tom Brady for example. One tendency he is known for is showing incredible poise when it matters most. That is a good tendency to have but on the other end is a quarterback such as Peyton Manning, who carried a reputation for falling short in the post season early in his career.
Now, while those were very general, other tendencies can be a lot more technical. Baker Mayfield was questioned earlier this season as his tendency to roll right even when no pressure presented itself was a tendency that urgently needed correction. Tendencies have also lingered around another young quarterback as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph has developed a reputation for constantly being overly cautious and frequently checking down to his running backs.
While a narrative can often place a stranglehold on a player’s reputation, luckily with the help of analysis and film, this narrative can possibly be displaced. So, what do the numbers tell us about Rudolph’s tendencies?
Well, Rudolph passing numbers show that he has frequently looked for his running backs, targeting them on 43 occasions this season. Rudolph has completed 39/43 passes to his backs and Jaylen Samuels has been his favorite target.
Samuels has caught 24 passes from Rudolph this season, more than any other player which should be telling considering that the running back has even missed one of Rudolph’s starts due to injury. Samuels and James Conner (assuming he fails to play Sunday) are on pace to record 118 receptions this season which would be more than even Le’Veon Bell recorded during his time in Pittsburgh.
Another telling sign is that even with one of the best pass catching backs, Ben Roethlisberger still did not target his running backs as frequently as Rudolph has. Below are the percentage of targets that Roethlisberger threw to a running back during years in which Bell logged over 90 targets.
Percentage of Pass Attempts To A Running Back Or Full Back
Rudolph: 26.1% (2019)
Roethlisberger: 19.4% (2017)
Roethlisberger: 20.6% (2016)
Roethlisberger: 21.5% (2014)
It does not take a rocket scientist to determine that Rudolph could target wide receivers more efficiently. Not counting passes that have been thrown away, the second-year quarterback has targeted a wide receiver on 90 pass attempts with them catching 51 of those targets for 718 yards. That works out to just a 56.7-completion percentage and 7.98 yards per target.
While Rudolph has certainly made a significant number of deep throws over the last two weeks, he has struggled to push the envelope consistently. That was fully on display during Sunday’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts as Rudolph seemed hesitant on more than one occasion.
Diontae Johnson gives Rudolph an open throwing lane but he seems to hesitate after seeing Rock Ya-Sin grab Johnson’s jersey. With the sideline serving as a safety net, Rudolph really should have let this one out as a decent pass would bring two possible outcomes, a catch or an incompletion. Instead, the second-year quarterback is sacked and stripped for a safety.
Another costly ending as a result of Rudolph failing to pull the trigger. Colts are in zone and JuJu Smith-Schuster finds a soft spot in the zone right over the middle of the field. Rudolph spots this but instead of anticipating Smith-Schuster getting open, he waits for his wide receiver to get open. The result of that extra split-second results in the Steelers’ quarterback getting hit by a blitzing slot corner and while Rudolph is able to shake it off, he takes his eyes off downfield and checks it to down to Samuels, who fumbles.
After letting the ball fly against the Miami Dolphins, Rudolph reverted to a dink and dunk mentality against the Colts and his two errors above indirectly led to nine points for the opposing team.
While Rudolph has certainly developed a known tendency for checking down, it is important to remember that this is a marathon not a race. Many tendencies can be broken, especially in young quarterbacks which Rudolph still is.
Roethlisberger was not always the field general that many have become accustomed to seeing. The franchise quarterback had his own tendencies earlier in his career and many of them were not for good reasons. Known for his gunslinger antics, which brought more than its fair share of interceptions and for holding onto the football for too long, Roethlisberger was not always the franchise quarterback we all know today.
That is not to say that Rudolph is the next Roethlisberger but more so that it is still a very fresh body of work for the second-year quarterback and a few results should not overshadow the process. Rudolph’s tendencies are not set in stone, they are correctable and he will get every chance over the next eight games to correct his habits.