Just like in life, football is going to throw you a few curveballs from time to time. sometimes that curveball is life intersecting with the game, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are experiencing this past week, with two starters on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
The first came at a most inopportune time, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger self-reporting COVID-19 symptoms on Saturday, and subsequently testing positive later that day, making him unavailable for the following afternoon’s game. It was a sudden shock, but that’s why teams prepare more than just their starters.
“We handled it like a professional team”, wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud said, who also had to step up in this game due to injuries at his position. “That’s why we practice, and that’s why Mason [Rudolph] practices, because things like that do happen in this league, whether it’s part of COVID or injury, and you’ve got to be ready and prepared”.
Rudolph has been the Steelers’ backup quarterback for the past three seasons; Sunday was his 10th start, though only his second since the 2019 season. He had an…okay game overall, certainly with obvious flaws, but his supporting cast was problematic, turning the ball over twice in overtime, for instance.
The Steelers have a rare situation with their quarterback position, as Roethlisberger doesn’t participate fully in practice during every available opportunity. That gives the other quarterbacks, particularly Rudolph, reps that they otherwise wouldn’t get. But it’s always incumbent upon the player to prepare himself to play whether he expects to play or not.
“That’s why mentally, even when JuJu was playing, and everybody was playing, and I had maybe two plays or one play, somebody goes down [and] I gotta know every play”, McCloud said. “Mason was highly prepared for it. We didn’t execute on both sides of the ball like we should. Mason held his weight and did what he needed to do to put us in a winning position”.
As mentioned, the Steelers offense did blow a couple of chances at potentially kicking a game-winning field goal during the overtime period after turning the ball over in opponent territory. That included a fumble with just eight seconds left, in long but not unreasonable field goal range, by tight end Pat Freiermuth.
I do think overall that the offensive struggles shouldn’t be attributed to a lack of quality preparation, but rather poor execution. They had more than 16 points’ worth of offense out there. They just didn’t execute well enough to claim them. It wasn’t the timing of Roethlisberger’s positive test.