For the most part, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to go where their defense has taken them. The defense gave up some big plays late in games earlier in the year—occasionally aided by untimely offensive failures, admittedly—but in recent weeks, have helped the team win three straight games just to get to an even record at the halfway point.
This is not, of course, the offense of 2018. The absences of Ben Roethlisberger under center and Antonio Brown running routes will hang over the unit for the entire year, without question. The two put up 1300 yards with over 100 receptions and a league-best 15 touchdowns last year, and that was pretty much the norm.
But even disregarding their absences, it’s fair to say that the offense has not yet lived up to its full potential with Mason Rudolph under center. Part of that is because he was never supposed to be under center in the first place, but now that he is, there is no choice but to grow. And he believes that they have.
“The state of the offense I think has morphed and evolved through eight games”, he told reporters following Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, during which he threw one touchdown and one interception, though the interception was off of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands.
“I think we’ve gotten better and have shown growth”, he went on. “We’re still not where we want to be, obviously. We have to focus on getting in the red zone. We got in the red zone a few times. We have to punch those in for six instead of coming away with three. We’re right there, close. I think we’re moving in the right direction”.
Considering the amount of close games that they have been in—virtually all of them since the season opener, in which they were blown out by the New England Patriots—Pittsburgh has been in close games throughout the year.
That only serves to highlight the importance of excelling in situational football. Red zone. Short-yardage. These are things that they did very well…last season. They’re things they are not doing particularly well this year, though there has been improvement on third down.
Much of the solution for a better offense is for Rudolph to play better, and to do that he has to be more comfortable, and more confident, more trusting. He definitely seems hesitant to pull the trigger, and is holding onto the ball too long when he isn’t checking it down. Paradoxically, he can’t be so afraid to make mistakes out there.