Mason Rudolph had an opportunity last season to get extended action in his second year in the NFL since he was selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He started eight games, winning five, completing 176 of 283 pass attempts for 1765 yards with 13 touchdowns, but also nine interceptions, averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt.
Today was his first extended work, even including the preseason, since then, and one could certainly make the argument that he showed improvement, even in a losing effort to an 11-5 Cleveland Browns team, at home, playing to end an 18-year playoff drought.
He ultimately completed 22 of 39 pass attempts, but for a career-high 315 yards, connecting on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, though he also threw a bad interception on a play that should have been called back for roughing the passer.
“I don’t know that I was surprised by it”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of the improvement of play from his third-year quarterback. “It was reasonable to expect improvement in his play. This guy has been working extremely hard, really for 12 calendar months. At the quarterback position, there are not many opportunities. This was his first extended action of the 2020 football season, so we anticipated him being better, and he was”.
One area in which he excelled was in the downfield passing game, making multiple connections in this area to Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. It shows in his 8.2 yards per attempt in spite of the fact that he only completed 56.4 percent of his passes.
“We were playing and playing to win. Pressure is ever-present”, Tomlin said about Rudolph’s poise and their intention of pushing the ball down the field. “You’re either feeling it or applying it. it was our goal today to apply it, so that was to be aggressive, particularly with the downfield throws. I thought Mason’s performance was gritty”.
The Steelers dropped back to pass more than twice as often as they ran it, though some of that includes some ‘passes’ by Joshua Dobbs, who was featured several times in a new wrinkle sub-package as a read-option quarterback.
Overall, it was certainly improvement from the young quarterback, and arguably something to build on, but the reality remains that he will be hitting free agency before he will ever have an opportunity to even compete for a starting job in Pittsburgh.