NFL pundits — and sport’s analysts, in general — are the most reactionary commentators you will ever find. I get it. They have to write an article or talk about a sport nearly every day, so, of course, they need to keep it interesting, as well as new and fresh.
It would be a pretty boring sport’s page or talk show without new spins every week. Understood. But, that doesn’t make it any less grating, at times.
Last week’s weekly Steelers Hysteria was concentrated on the defense. As someone who listens to or reads NFL commentary from traditional to the in vogue world of fantasy football, the ponderous refrain was that the Steelers’ defense was hot garbage. With very few exceptions, this opinion was hardened in cement.
I heard the word “stinks” and that starting your slot receiver in fantasy versus the Steelers was a mortal lock. The crowned prince to destroy the Steelers this week was Bengals wide receiver John Ross.
Oh, no! Hide the children! So it is written, so it shall be done — Andy Dalton and their top five passing attack will destroy the Steelers’ pathetic defense. Start them all in fantasy. Andy Dalton, John Ross, and Tyler Boyd were sure things. Oh, and Joe Mixon? Start him, too, against this defensive sieve.
Never mind that the Steelers’ defense boasted 10 number one draft choices. And, that many of these high picks already had a nice NFL pedigree. Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Joe Haden. Forget that the defense was being acclimated to a highly touted number one pick at ILB in Devin Bush. Further forget that this defense was thought of as a potential excellent unit mere weeks earlier.
The NFL punditry world sure forgot and quick. They trashed that prediction. This unit was bad and will continue to be roasted.
Then Sunday came and none of that happened. The Steelers, in fact, put on one of the most complete dominations on the defensive side of the ball of any game this season, and against what was rated a top offense that gave the 49ers, the Bills, and the Seahawks fits.
“Oh, but that’s only because the Cincinnati line was so bad.” Or, “That’s just Dalton failing again in primetime.” Yeah, whatever. Blah, blah, blah. It’s hard to admit sometimes when you’re so terribly wrong.
That fact is that this type overreaction is abundant in the NFL and all sports. A few bad weeks, especially at the beginning of the season, often causes typecasting that will stick for a while with the “experts.”
Of course, time will tell. But, suddenly the season outlook on the Steelers’ defense looks rather promising. One this is for sure — the overblown death of the Steelers’ defense was hysteria.
So, what is the pounding drumbeat of Steelers Hysteria this week?
Oh, dear Lord, Mason Rudolph and the Steelers cannot throw beyond three yards! Oh my, hide the children again!
Similar to how the Steelers’ defense was thought highly of this preseason, so was the deep passing ability of Mason Rudolph. It was a pretty universal opinion that one of the strengths of Mason Rudolph, a strength that had the Steelers tag him a first round talent, was his ability to throw the long ball.
In fact, it was spoken of ad nauseam that he and his college teammate, James Washington, were prolific when the ball travelled far downfield. ESPN’s Tim Hasselback proclaimed that he had Mason Rudolph ranked number one in his class — that would be ahead of Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold — in the ability to throw long.
Furthermore, two preseasons of Rudolph football at the NFL level gave no indication that he couldn’t throw beyond three yards. He often threw arcing deep passes, and often with success in his limited NFL experience.
But, after two games, it has now been a laughable joke that Mason Rudolph can’t or won’t throw long, that he needs to be protected from himself, and that the Steelers’ offense will be run, run, run, and you had better get used to it.
In fantasy, forget Rudolph and the passing game, they say, because the Steelers think so badly of Rudolph’s passing ability that they are letting Jaylen Samuels play QB in the wildcat instead of trusting Rudolph to attempt passes.
Rudolph’s DOT — depth of target, for you non-fantasy people — is astoundingly awful, so you must bench Ju Ju Smith-Schuster and run to the waiver wire to pick up the Steelers running backs.
Okay, deep breaths.
So, yes, the Steelers came out run-heavy versus the Cincinnati Bengals, and, yes, they did run the wildcat quite a bit. Did you notice anything else?
Maybe that it was working! And, working very well. So, in the NFL, where it is not easy to just take wins for granted, you keep doing what works. It was a total humiliation and domination of the Cincinnati Bengals. When a plan is working to perfection, good coaches will ride that to the W.
But, now the seed is sown, the cement is set, and NFL punditry has deemed that Mason Rudolph is a failure at long passing. This is the Steelers’ predicament for the foreseeable future. This is the weekly Steelers Hysteria of the moment.
Of course, everything in life remains to be seen.
But, Mason Rudolph, as explained above, has shown a proficiency at throwing deep. Even in the past two games, where he admittedly did not try it often, he has thrown a couple of long TDs. The passing game is a work in progress, but, still, Rudolph has thrown 2 TDs in every NFL game he has played.
I predict that the Steelers’ game plan will change and highly doubt that the wildcat is the Steelers’ future. As Rudolph gets comfortable with his young receivers, I feel the deep shots are there. In fact, this notion that the Steelers will throw 3 yard passes every time and that they will run nearly every down will do just that — open up the field for deep passes, including play-action.
I feel confident that Rudolph has the talent to deliver. Long and short. Deep passes are one thing, low percentage plays. We’ve seen him make them. But, I’m more pleased to see that he has been consistently able to deliver on short and intermediate throws with accuracy. While deep balls are nice and necessary, it is the higher percentage stuff that is the bread and butter in today’s NFL. Watch Tom Brady. This isn’t the long ball age of the Terry Bradshaw 1970s.
But, don’t worry. If this hysteria dissipates as I think it will, a new Steelers Hysteria will surely percolate and bubble up to take its place.
Oh, let me guess. Hmm…What’s wrong with Ju Ju? I can hear it now.