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Steelers Analysis

5 Steelers Takeaways: Offense’s Big Change, Rudolph Report Card



Steelers RB Najee Harris
Steelers RB Najee Harris against the Baltimore Ravens, Jan. 6, 2024 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

BALTIMORE — The Steelers went into Baltimore and came out with a win. That win could send them to the playoffs if they get some help. But what did the team learn about themselves that they can take away moving forward into the future, whether that is this season or not?

Steelers Offense Finds Right Run Scheme

The Steelers have entirely changed their run scheme late in the season. Once a team that first focused on mostly zone runs, like inside zone and split zone, the team has switched to a gap scheme with one-back power, counter, dart, and other schemes that have put the Steelers’ offense downhill and on the move. It fits with the personnel. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are hard-hitting runners that teamed down. Meanwhile, linemen like Broderick Jones, James Daniels, and Isaac Seumalo are athletic and smooth in space to work on those.

“You know, I never thought about it like but you might be right,” Jones said. “It does fit who we are and what we do well. I think there’s something to that.”

Steelers OT Broderick Jones

Steelers OT Broderick Jones against the Baltimore Ravens, Jan/ 6, 2024 – Ed Thompson / SteelerS Now

Warren and Harris progressively wear down opponents, and they feel the effects of their consistent one-two punches within these concepts. It all clicks. The Steelers ground and pound, play ball control offense, and can neutralize team’s opposing offenses while wearing their defense down the field.

“Yeah, I feel like that complement really works together for us,” Warren said. “We can feel teams start to wear down. Najee and I feed off each other.”

Matt Canada had an idea for his scheme but started to find where this group really worked. Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan have started to find the groove of what this team wanted to do on the ground. Their switch to these gap scheme was motivated by the teams they were facing in recent weeks. Jones told me that he felt like many of the teams they faced recently were reactors at the second level, and so they could wrap around and hit the alley well. But it just fits them better, too.

Patrick Peterson Must Grow Here

Patrick Peterson’s idea of playing at safety is a good one. He is a cerebral player who can read offenses and quarterbacks from back there, giving him a chance to make plays. Peterson wants to extend his career by mitigating his athleticism concerns and embracing what made him great for so long. With his ball skills, it all does click quite nicely together. Except, he has to tackle if he is going to play there consistently. Eric Rowe has stepped up in a bigger, if not even more significant, fashion than Peterson.

Steelers FS Patrick Peterson

Steelers safety Patrick Peterson and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dec. 23, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

And there were two plays on the lone Ravens touchdown drive that stood out. He got turned around by Gus Edwards after overpursuing and failing to break down. Then, he did not mean Isaiah Likely with enough physicality, and he ran Peterson right over a touchdown. If this is going to be a long-term move, Peterson has to be better. That’s a must. Otherwise, the move has no long-term value. You can not play at safety without being willing to stick your face into the fan, and Peterson knows that. It will be interesting to see how that evolves.

Godwin Igwebuike Makes a Great Play

When you see a guy do with Godwin Igwebuike did on Saturday, you have to tip the cap to him. On a tumbling kickoff down the sideline, Igwebuike put himself out of bounds, grabbing the ball and causing an illegal out-of-bounds kick to be called. It’s a rule that remains a massive loophole, but Igwebuike knew exactly what he was doing at that point. Credit to him. He got a nod and handshake from Mike Tomlin, too.

“It goes back to practice, when I started working on kickoff returns a few years ago, it’s one of those things you just remember,” Igwebuike said. “Like, if this ever happens, you better be ready. You put it in the back of your mind, and I saw it dribbling over there, and I said,’ Is this my time and the moment I’ve been waiting for?’ So, I stepped out of bounds and I trusted that I knew what I was doing.”

Steelers RB Godwin Igwebuike

Steelers RB Godwin Igwebuike returns a kick against the Tennessee Titans, Nov. 2, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

That gave the Steelers great field position at the 40-yard line. It did not turn into points, and Igwebuike wishes it did, but that’s the type of heads up plays that good teams make. It’s the little things. Special teams were not good for the Steelers all day, either, but Igwebuike and Calvin Austin III as returns have found quite a nice niche to work into throughout the season.

Igwebuike, a midseason add, looks to be one of the guys who can come back as part of the building process for Omar Khan’s team. With plays like this one, he continues to earn those stripes and make plays across the board. That’s all thanks to his headiness and tape study.

Mason Rudolph and His Ups and Downs

Even though this was the dregs of the Ravens defense, make no mistake that Mason Rudolph faced what might have been his toughest challenge with the depth the Ravens boasted. He showcased much of what made him pop throughout the first two games. So, let’s start on the positive side of things for Rudolph.

For one, he continued to get the ball to the right guy. I have a hard time getting on Rudolph too hard for a lot of things because when you make the right reads and distribute the ball, good things happen. Rudolph has been an expert at making the right read and getting to the guys he needs to, and he did so again on Saturday. That allows for those easy yards after the catch and or big plays, like Diontae Johnson’s touchdown, to occur.

Steelers QB Mason Rudolph

Steelers QB Mason Rudolph against the Baltimore Ravens, Jan. 6, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The negative is that he did put the ball in harm’s way more. His most dangerous throw yet came when Rudolph missed Marcus Williams coming over the middle of the field down from his quarter’s safety position, nearly throwing an interception in the process. In addition, his poise is a blessing and a curse. I can point to several throws on Saturday where his poise allowed him to get the ball off. But other times, even a subtle move in the pocket would give him just an extra second to fire the ball. Instead, it can lead to strip sacks. This is the next step in Rudolph’s progression as a pocket passer. He has to move just functionally in the pocket rather than becoming too statue-like at times.

Overall, he played fine. The sloppy conditions naturally made this game have a far different script than his last two outings, so it is no surprise they kept the throws in a rhythm style. And he completed 90 percent of his passes while being a bonafide point guard. That’s what they asked him to do, and he delivered what he needed to deliver.

Fixing Jaylen Warren and the Fumbles

Jaylen Warren has never consistently put the ball on the ground. That’s not a massive issue, but it is probably the biggest issue in his game. At his first training camp, Eddie Faulkner made him carry around ‘Jaylen’s Baby’ and Warren even admitted it might be returning after this one. But this game was an outlier for him, not a pattern. Two fumbles that Warren had came from slick conditions. Warren won’t give himself that excuse, and he’s not planning to wear sleeves or tape to rectify it. It’s just about technique.

Steelers RB Jaylen Warren

Steelers RB Jaylen Warren against the Baltimore Ravens, Jan. 6, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Both of his fumbles came from the same type of player. Warren was fighting for extra yards and was upright, and a Ravens defender came in to punch the ball out. This was a one-time issue and should not be expected to continue moving forward. But it is something to take note of anyways.