One of the central themes throughout Mason Rudolph’s early tenure as a starting quarterback in the league has been a penchant for risk-aversion. He hasn’t made too many ill-advised throws, and his worst game in terms of decision-making by far was in his first game back from a concussion, after being off multiple weeks due to the bye.
While he has taken his deep shots down the field—and seven of his 10 touchdown passes have been explosive plays, mind you—he hasn’t put the ball into harm’s way too often. Excepting the jump ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the near-pick on the drop by James Washington, he has avoided a lot of contested situations. Of his four interceptions he has thrown, two of them have come off of dropped passes.
Following a game last week that was far more conservative than the game before, reporters peppered the young quarterback with questions dealing with this topic. “As long as you take calculated risks, giving our guy a chance or nobody”, he said. “’Us or nobody’ is a phrase we use around here a lot. There is definitely a time and a place to push the ball and make a calculated decision and when it is not there, you can throw the ball out of the endzone or give our guy a chance underneath”.
With a defense that has been on the rise for most of the season, and given the situation on offense, it is perhaps a wise strategy to take that more conservative approach. Make the throws you know you can make, and put the ball in a place where only your guy is going to get it, if anybody will.
With the defense able to turn the ball over and give the offense extra possessions, things should, eventually, swing in their direction, so there’s no sense in pushing it and giving up a possession with a bad decision offensively.
Yet he also talked about the need to be more aggressive than he has been particularly when it comes to the red zone, the struggles in which area, he said, “starts with me”. He told reporters that he understands so much of what separates wins from losses is converting those ‘four-point plays’, the ones that get into the end zone and prevent you from settling for a field goal.
“As an offense, we have to be more aggressive and maybe give our guys those 50/50 shot chances and it starts with me there”, he said. “It is those four-point plays where you don’t want to forfeit the three that you have but we know to win in this league, seven versus three points is a big difference and I think that will separate you from winning a lot of games and losing”.
This week should be an interesting challenge. The Los Angeles Rams actually have the second-worst red zone defense in terms of preventing touchdowns of all the opponents the Steelers have faced so far this year. They are also in the middle of the pack with just six interceptions on the year. If there is a time to be more aggressive, perhaps this is it.