Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph had a miserable performance Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns as the second-year Oklahoma State product threw four interceptions in the team’s 21-7 road loss. If that weren’t enough, Rudolph was not only assaulted with his own helmet by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett late in that loss, he was also accused of using a racial slur against said player.
With the Steelers Sunday road game against the Cincinnati Bengals now on tap, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked on Thursday if this next outing will be a good test to see if Rudolph can bounce back from all that he’s endured this past week.
I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Fichtner said Thursday, according to transcripts provided from the team. “It happened at San Francisco. He got his first win, I believe it was against Cincinnati, and he needs to bounce back, and he will. He’s attacked today. He’s attacked the week in a tough week.”
Because Rudolph threw four interceptions against the Browns, Fichtner was asked on Thursday if all of them were on the young quarterback, or if they were a product of the situations he was put in.
“There’s no product,” Fichtner said. “We just put some balls in some bad places and made a couple poor throws really, and that just can’t happen. And he knows that that’s disappointing for him because he’s really done a pretty good job of throwing it to our color jersey and not someone else.”
Now that Rudolph has the equivalent of roughly seven full games played in under his belt, Fichtner was asked on Thursday what’s the best way to judge the Steelers young quarterback at this stage of his development.
“Well, I judge him in everything he does,” Fichtner said. “From his huddle management to field control to decisions he has to make, checks and certain things that he has to do for us to allow us to be successful. Obviously, ball placement, pocket movement, I mean, there’s a lot of things that you’re coaching all of the time, but game
day, it’s time to take the week test, and that’s where you want to see those results.”
If Rudolph is to bounce back on Sunday against the Bengals, he’ll need to do so with a very inexperienced and makeshift cast of wide receivers as JuJu Smith-Schuster will miss that contest due to a concussion and knee injury suffered in the Thursday night loss to the Browns.
Three of the wide receivers who figure to see playing time Sunday for the Steelers in Cincinnati, Johnny Holton, Tevin Jones and newcomer Deon Cain, who was signed this past week off the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts, have a combined 18 total career receptions. With the recent weeks of shuffling that the Steelers offense has endured at the wide receiver position, Fichtner was asked Thursday if he thinks that hurts the development of a young quarterback such as Rudolph.
“I think if you ask any quarterback, yeah, you might feel that way, but the truth is, these guys have done a nice job of really next man up doing it, and putting us in a position,” Fichtner said. “You know, a couple throws he’d [Rudolph] like to have back. I know it had nothing to do with who was running the route and those type of things.
“It has everything to do with where you put the ball and the decision you made. And there’s going to be times in a competitive guy who you have to know when to say when. It’s enough, throw it away. He did it on the very first third down call. We had a little mistake in protection. He avoided it instead of taking a sack and threw
the ball away. Those situations occur. We can live with that because it gave our team a chance to win. We turn it over; we give our team no chance to win.”
Sunday in Cincinnati, Rudolph and the rest of the Steelers offense will face a Bengals defense that just isn’t very good at all this season. That unit ranks last in total yards allowed per game and average yards allowed per play entering Week 12. Sunday will also mark the second time that Rudolph has faced the Bengals defense this season. In the Week 4 game in Pittsburgh against the Bengals Rudolph completed 24 of his 28 total pass attempts for 229 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and the Steelers easily won that game 27-3.
Can Rudolph equal or better that showing Sunday in Cincinnati and thus pass the bounce back test? We’ll soon find out.
“Like I said, there’s going to be growing pains every week, and there has been,” Fichtner said Thursday. Maybe different defenses, maybe just different situations, different play calls. You know, those types of things. We’ve just got to grow from them, and I believe he is.”
Here’s to Rudolph growing more Sunday in Cincinnati as the Steelers certainly need him to if they want to keep their faint payoff hopes alive.