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Saunders: Mason Rudolph’s Performance Acceptable for Backup, Not Potential Future Starter



PITTSBURGH — Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph did not have a great game by anyone’s definition in the Steelers’ 16-16 tie with the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Making his 10th start as a pro, Rudolph threw 50 times, completing 30 for 242 yards, one touchdown and one interception. In addition to the interception, he had several missed throws, including a would-be touchdown to Ray-Ray McCloud.

Rudolph was critical of his own performance after the game.

“Some throws I want to have back,” Rudolph said. “You’ve got to find a way to get it done and we didn’t tonight, so we’ll take a look and try to fix those mistakes.”

But on the other hand, head coach Mike Tomlin spoke positively of Rudolph’s performance, emphasizing that he gave the Steelers a chance to win. Regardless of Rudolph’s success or lack thereof, two overtime fumbles and a snap over his head certainly did more to hurt the Steelers than anything Rudolph did.

“He did what we expected him to do,” Tomlin said. “He gave us a chance to win, but that’s not the first opportunity for him. This guy has been at it a while, and so we expected him to play well, and we thought he gave us a chance to win.”

So why the disconnect? I think it depends on how you view Mason Rudolph.

If you see Rudolph as the backup quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and nothing more, then Rudolph leading an offense with no Chase Claypool, no JuJu Smith-Schuster and missing both of its starting guards, in a 30-degree rainstorm, into field goal range twice in overtime only to have his receivers fumble it away, then that performance was certainly adequate.

It appears that Tomlin is in that category, taking a performance from a backup that he would not expect from a starter, even if “the standard is the standard.”

But Rudolph has said repeatedly that he sees himself as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and that appearance was not befitting someone of that talent level.

That’s the way it has been throughout Rudolph’s NFL tenure. He’s now 5-4-1 as a starter. If your team’s backup can keep you above .5o0 for nine games, you’re probably thrilled. If your starter is a half-game over .500 nine games, that’s probably less exciting.

Rudolph spoke on Sunday about how he’s more comfortable than he was when he was thrust into the bulk of his playing time after Ben Roethlisberger’s injury in 2019.

“I’m so much more comfortable out there,” he said. “Comfortable with Coach Canada and our offense and the young players on our offensive line. … There’s a level of experience that you have.”

But the numbers don’t really bear that out. His 70.6 passer rating was the third-worst of the game he’s had more than 10 passing attempts. His 60% completion percentage was about average.

Yes, the game was played in miserable conditions and the talent around him in the Pittsburgh offense isn’t what it once was, but it’s pretty safe to say, four years into his NFL career, that this is the quarterback that Rudolph is and is likely to be.

For the Steelers, with Roethlisberger cemented as the starter as long as he’s healthy, having Rudolph as a backup is just fine. But the 39-year-old will not play forever, and Rudolph has done little to show he should be the next to take the reins.

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P.F. Smerker
November 15, 2021 6:53 pm

I don’t understand your refusal to accept the fact that without dropped passes and fumbles, the Steelers would have won. Rudolph can be a good NFL starter but the hate-filled steeler fans and media types have a mindset that he is not the one. Hell the fans and media types even want to go after Roethlisberger. Thank God Tomlin knows football . He wasn’t perfect, but he will get better. He can play in this league.

November 16, 2021 9:59 am
Reply to  P.F. Smerker

Honestly…I didn’t see much drop off out of Mason from the current version of Big Ben. Rudolph is much quicker and more mobile if anything. Ben has bigger hands and might have handled a wet ball a bit better but Mason isn’t playing any worse than Ben. I see the biggest problem offensively as Canada’s offense which seems predictable and absolutely painful to watch.

Last edited 12 days ago by Charliepete67

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