Mason Rudolph Can Handle the Pittsburgh Steelers Offense

Mason Rudolph
FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 19: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the TCU Horned Frogs in the second half at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Mason Rudolph saw his first meaningful game action in the second half of Sunday’s 28-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers was thrust into the spotlight when Ben Roethlisberger was pulled after injuring his throwing elbow. Rudolph started slow but turned in a solid performance for the second-year man out of Oklahoma State. He kept the Steelers in the game while running the offense with surprising efficiency. The result was a promising glimpse into what life would be like after Roethlisberger retires.

Stage Not too Big for Mason Rudolph as He Takes Over Pittsburgh Steelers Offense

Making His Mark

Mason Rudolph went into the second half knowing he was going to see out the remainder of the game. He had a rough start that saw a pass bounce off the hands of Donte Moncrief for an interception. The next drive saw him complete a 45-yard flea-flicker to JuJu Smith-Schuster. The offense had to settle for a field goal, but it was apparent Rudolph was settling in. As the game played out, Rudolph continued to keep Pittsburgh’s offense moving. Of the five drives that Rudolph led in the second half, the Steelers scored on three of them. Two of those drives ended in touchdown passes to Vance McDonald, who was glaringly quiet in the previous game.

Rudolph finished the game completing 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards and a 92.5 passer rating. He threw his first two career touchdown passes as well as his first career interception. His biggest mistake was on the two-point conversion attempt that saw him force a throw to JuJu in the back of the endzone. He avoided giving up any sacks and displayed a bit of veteran poise. On his first touchdown throw to McDonald, Rudolph changed his arm angle and fit the pass around defenders collapsing on him. All in all, Rudolph nearly outdueled a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and led the Steelers on a comeback victory.

Looking Ahead

It was announced on Monday that Ben Roethlisberger will need season-ending surgery on his throwing elbow. The Steelers placed Big Ben on the injured reserve, making this the shortest season of his career. For the remainder of this season, it will continue to be Mason Rudolph under center. The road ahead won’t be easy, however. Rudolph’s first start is going to be cross-country in Santa Clara against the San Francisco 49ers. Following that trip, there will be back-to-back divisional home games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. Rudolph will certainly need to absorb as much more of the playbook as he can and improve his timing with his receivers. Both the 49ers and the Ravens have top-10 defenses in the early going this season. Welcome to the NFL kid.

Beginning of the Mason Rudolph Era?

The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves in a situation similar to this, it was 2004. The Steelers were coming off a disappointing 6-10 season the year before. Veteran Tommy Maddox was leading the offense with a rookie Roethlisberger waiting in the wings. When Maddox got injured in the team’s second game, Roethlisberger stepped in to finish the game. He started the third game and reeled off 13-straight regular-season victories. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rudolph has a similar opportunity laid out in front of him. If he can get the Steelers back on a winning track and building momentum, the attitude around the organization might change. Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer, but an injury this late in his career is concerning. If Rudolph seizes the opportunity in a big way, it will force the Steelers to confront a situation similar to the Green Bay Packers in 2008. They cut ties with Brett Favre for good, ready to finally move on to Aaron Rodgers. If the Steelers choose to move on to Rudolph, they will have to commit 100 percent. Ben has never really been a backup, and I don’t see him starting to so late in his career.

Conclusion

Mason Rudolph showed on Sunday that he has a good command of the offense. He was smart and efficient, while nearly leading a come from behind victory. With the knowledge now that he will be the starter for the remainder of the season, Rudolph has a chance to show everyone what he is about. He’s the all-time leading passer in Oklahoma State history. After not playing a single snap his rookie year, he beat out Joshua Dobbs to be the backup this season. He has confidence in himself. More importantly, the Steelers have confidence in him. Time will tell if all that confidence translates to victories for Pittsburgh.

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