The Pittsburgh Steelers are not exactly in unfamiliar territory here when it comes to playing regular season finales against the Cleveland Browns for which they have made an evaluation that they have achieved as much as they feel comfortable achieving relative to what is left to be gained where they decide that giving some veterans a game off is more advantageous than putting all of your best players out there on the field.
With the Buffalo Bills beating the New England Patriots on Monday night, it ensured that the Steelers would need help if they were to move up to the second seed from the third seed, having already been assured that they would place in one of those two slots. They would need Buffalo to lose to the Miami Dolphins, however, in addition to beating the Browns themselves.
In other words, Mason Rudolph will be starting at quarterback, and Ben Roethlisberger will be watching from the sidelines. It’s a big moment for the former third-round pick as he gets an opportunity to audition for his future, trying to show—well, anybody who is watching—that he has more to offer than what he put on tape last year.
“I haven’t had the chance to talk to him about it, but I’m sure he’s excited about getting an opportunity to start, certainly”, head coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday pre-game press conference when addressing the young quarterback’s emotions learning that he would be given the chance to play meaningful snaps.
“I don’t want to make this seem like it’s a preseason game”, Tomlin stressed. “This is no preseason game where we are playing backups where we have player 54 through 75 to evaluate and things of that nature. We have one NFL football team. That NFL Football team will go play minus Ben and maybe another guy or two. I don’t want to make more out of it than what it is from that perspective”.
In other words, Rudolph will not be evaluated on a curve. He will play with whoever is out there, and he will be judged by his performance. And he will certainly need the boost, after struggling to impress during extended playing time in 2019.
Roethlisberger went down in the middle of the second game of the season last year, and Rudolph replaced him, though he was eventually benched in favor of Devlin Hodges. Ultimately, he started eight games, playing in 10, completing 176 of 283 passes for 1765 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, with an 82.0 quarterback rating.
His previous start against the Browns was really his downfall, in which he threw four of his nine interceptions—his first two interceptions of the season were the result of dropped passes—and saw him benched early in the third quarter a week later.
With just one year remaining on his rookie contract, Rudolph knows that he has to get some tape out there that, frankly, looks better than his previous tape. There was no preseason this year, which was a major disadvantage in this respect for anybody who doesn’t get playing time, so this is his chance. He can’t afford to miss.