While it will ultimately be Mason Rudolph who is held accountable in terms of playing time for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive woes of late, head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear during his pre-game press conference yesterday that he didn’t want to be too down on his young quarterback, and left the door wide open for his return.
He laid it out during multiple points of his dialogue with reporters that he put the blame on the offensive struggles on many different areas, not just the quarterback position, and injuries at nearly every position had been a major component of that.
“In recent quarters of action, we’ve really been bogged down, and it’s really been due to a lot of things. It goes beyond just Mason and his performance”, Tomlin said. “He’s been in and out of the lineup. Some running backs and offensive linemen have been in and out of the lineup. We’ve missed some guys at receiver, specifically in the last game. The combination of playing without Conner and JuJu, and so maybe some of those negative things have worn away at elements of Mason’s play”.
The Steelers were without JuJu Smith-Schuster on Sunday, and the number one receiver has battled injuries throughout the season. James Conner has missed all but one quarter in the past four games, while Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels both missed time as well. James Washington missed one game, while Ramon Foster missed two, and now Maurkice Pouncey is suspended.
At a later point in the press conference, Tomlin reiterated what he said above about player availability being a fundamental issue in the offense being “bogged down”, making sure not to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of his young quarterback. “Things don’t happen in a vacuum”, he said.
Two of the Steelers’ most productive players on Sunday weren’t even members of the team in their last game, those being wide receiver Deon Cain and running back Kerrith Whyte. Wide receiver Tevin Jones, on the practice squad just a couple weeks ago, also played several dozen snaps on Sunday.
The offense currently on the field in Pittsburgh is a far cry from what they envisioned heading into the season. Donte Moncrief was supposed to be a starter, but he was waived several weeks ago, unable to recover from a training camp finger injury, so example.
There has been no stability at the running back position because all of them have been injured significantly at one point in the season or another. Benny Snell finally returned and looked the part, but that was also against he worst rushing defense the Steelers have faced this season.
Devlin Hodges will have his chance on Sunday to see if he can continue to deliver the ‘spark’ that Tomlin talked about seeking when he installed him at quarterback in the second half of their win over the Cincinnati Bengals. If he doesn’t serve as that catalyst, then expect Rudolph to be back under center sooner rather than later.