PITTSBURGH — One of the top storylines of Steelers training camp yet to be resolved as the team closes up shop at St. Vincent College and returns to Pittsburgh is the status of the backup quarterback battle.
Third-year pro Josh Dobbs and second-year passer Mason Rudolph have each started one game and each gotten a chance at performing in at least one two-minute drill while working mostly with first-team players in the first half.
Rudolph got the start on Sunday, and went 10 of 15 for 77 yards after converting 5 of 8 for 91 yards in the preseason opener. That gives him a 65.2 completion percentage and a 7.3 yards per attempt average.
Over two games, Dobbs is 11 of 19 for 180 yards — a 57.9 completion percentage and a 9.5 yards per attempt average. Dobbs also has 49 rushing yards.
Statistically, it doesn’t seem like there has been a great deal of separation between the two passers, something that head coach Mike Tomlin emphasized on Saturday night.
“Not as we stand here right now,” he said brusquely, when asked if Rudolph had made any separation.
While Tomlin’s opinion is the only one (along with his subordinate coaches) that actually matters, there are more ways to evaluate quarterback play than just passing statistics. There have been two very important characteristics that Rudolph has show when he’s been in the game that Dobbs has not so far: the ability to lead long scoring drives, and the ability to hold onto the football.
With Dobbs in the game as the starter against Tampa Bay, he led two drives with the first-team offense. The first stalled after five plays and a punt. The second went 17 plays but came away with just a field goal. Rudolph came into the game and led two scoring drives in the final 5:33 of the half, driving 64 yards on seven plays and finding James Washington for a touchdown. A three-and-out after a turnover left the Steelers in field goal range for another score.
Against Kansas City, Rudolph’s offense punted three times and fumbled once (Donte Moncrief) in the first quarter, but capitalized on a long scoring drive (14 plays, 89 yards) in the second quarter that saw Rudolph connect with Washington for 32 yards on a 3rd and 11 and with Xavier Grimble for 13 yards on another 3rd and 11.
Fittingly, Dobbs got the same two scenarios that Rudolph had the week before: one regular two-minute offense drive and a second after a turnover. Dobbs’ first drive got off to a strong start with a 40-yard completion to Washington but stalled after three straight incompletions followed a 2nd a 5.
When the Steelers got the ball back after a Tuzar Skipper fumble recovery, Dobbs threw an interception from the 6-yard line.
So through two games, when running with the first teamers, Rudolph has led his units to two touchdowns and a field goal. Dobbs has had no scoring drives and committed one turnover. It’s a small sample, one that will roughly double by the time the preseason ends, but so far, Rudolph has been the better leader of the offense, if not the better passer.