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Trends Favor Mason Rudolph in Steelers Backup QB Battle

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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.

Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20

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David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.

Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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Steelers

T.J. Watt Named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

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Leading up to his big matchup vs. his brother J.J and the Houston Texans, T.J. Watt was honored for his performance last Sunday.

Watt was recognized Wednesday morning as the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field. This was the third time in his career that Watt has won this award.

During the Steelers 26-21 win over the Broncos, Watt registered 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and four tackles.

Watt continues to be one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. Counting his performance on Sunday, Watt now has collected 37 career sacks, which is the most by any NFL linebacker since 2017. Here’s another interesting stat courtesy the Pittsburgh Steelers media relations department: Watt has 25 sacks in 25 career games at Heinz Field. Only three players in NFL history have registered more sacks over their first 25 career home games.

Watt and the rest of the Steelers defense will be challenged this Sunday as they host Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans at Heinz Field. Their 2-0 start has the Steelers tied with the Baltimore Ravens for 1st place in the AFC North.

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Steelers

Tomlin Bringing Referees into Steelers Practice to Help Penalty Issues

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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin thinks his team took too many penalties in their Week 2 win over the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field on Saturday, and he’s going to do something about it.

Tomlin said on Tuesday that he’s bringing referees into practice this week in order to help his team remain in compliance with the NFL rulebook on gamedays.

“It hurt our efforts on both sides of the ball,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “It hurt our efforts in terms of possessing the ball on offense. We had two critical holding calls in the first half that put us behind the chains and essentially stopped drives. Ball possession and drives, there’s too much scarcity in that discussion to get major penalties and throw yourself behind the chains. We’re just not good enough to overcome those things at this juncture, and quite frankly, I would imagine not many of us in this game are that good at this juncture.

“On the defensive side of the ball, we didn’t play clean enough on the back end on possession downs. They were able to extend drives through DPI and things of that nature. When you get people to that point to where you have them in a third down situation and you have the ball snapped and you’re executing the rush, there’s just too much ground covered to start over and give them a new set of downs. We have to get better in those areas.”

Special teams were also part of the problem, Tomlin said, as the Steelers had a Diontae Johnson punt return touchdown called back due to a block in the back. In total, the Steelers were penalized 10 times for 89 yards.

“We are not only analyzing and openly talking about the penalties, but we are working hard to rectify it,” he said. “We intend to bring some officials to our practice work this week in an effort to make a point of emphasis in that area. That’s important for us. Again, I just thought that was a catalyst for a lot of negativity in the game for us.”

Steelers cornerback Joe Haden said after the game that the team felt that “some of the calls weren’t going their way,” but Tomlin said they don’t consider whether or not they think a call should have been made when assessing and evaluating team performance.

“We coach. We don’t officiate the game,” he said “We are not assessing judgment based on what’s called. We are simply acknowledging what is called and we are making whatever necessary change in our behavior to make sure that it is not called moving forward. It’s as simple as that for us.”

Tomlin said the team is still working through the procedures to have the officials they want to use tested and able to be on the practice field at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex when the team returns to work on Wednesday.

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