For pretty much every opportunity that he has had since Ben Roethlisberger went down, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had been pretty adamant in refuting any suggestion that he would bench Mason Rudolph. That even seemed to be the case during his halftime interview.
Then he benched Rudolph after the first possession of the half, inserting Devlin Hodges, who helped the Steelers score 13 of their 16 points in the game, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to Rudolph’s favorite target, James Washington.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to suggest that Hodges played some sort of amazing game overall—he completed five of 11 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown—it was pretty clear that the offense moved better with ‘Duck’ in the game. And that opens Pandora’s Box going forward.
Prior to being benched, Rudolph was struggling not only with his accuracy, but with his decision-making as well. His slow processing speed came into play numerous times, including on a red-zone interception in which his tardy delivery allowed a defender to hit his arm. He nearly took another safety as well.
The second-year quarterback finished the game, playing two quarters and a three-play drive, completing eight of 16 pass attempts for just 85 yards, without throwing a touchdown, with the one interception. It’s actually the first game in his career in which he failed to throw a touchdown pass.
Obviously, the story of this game is greatly shaped by what came before. In the Steelers’ last outing, they lost to the Cleveland Browns, with the offense looking anemic. Rudolph threw four interceptions, all four of them his responsibility, in what was by far the worst game of his career.
Early on, with Pittsburgh looking as though it had no hopes of making the playoffs, it seemed pretty clear that this would be the Mason Rudolph season, but now that the Steelers are currently seeded for the second wildcard, the decision-making is evidently being altered. This is no longer an evaluation year. It’s about winning, and making whatever decision gives them the best chance of winning.
That decision isn’t necessarily Hodges. But it’s now part of the discussion, and that’s huge. The Steelers have seen a lot of football out of Rudolph now as they start to get a real feel for who he is as a player. Obviously, he is not at the height of his abilities. He’s still a second-year guy with eight career starts.
But they have seen enough now where they can make an educated decision about what is best for the team in 2019. That will be determined on the practice field this week, perhaps. Tomlin will surely be bombarded by questions over the course of the next few days about it as he figures out his decision.