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The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers: An admitted optimist’s view of this new team

There are pessimists, and there are optimists. Here is an optimist’s view of the 2019 Steelers.

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

I realize I’m a silver lining type of guy when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, I truly think the Steelers will be more competitive and challenge for a wild card spot more than most are giving them a chance to do so.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

Maybe my “hopeful” attitude extends from my youth, when, as a really little kid, Terry Bradshaw was my favorite. As a child, sometimes before you even understand sports, you pick your favorite. I did so, and I clearly recall, as that little kid, being at Three Rivers Stadium and hearing the adults wanting Terry Hanratty or Joe Gilliam. Bradshaw was playing badly at the time.

Well, Terry Bradshaw survived that horrific career start (which is nicely chronicled in NFL Network’s Terry Bradshaw “A Football Life”), and went on to great things, of course.

That same attitude did me wrong when it came to Kordell Stewart. Clouded by the early junk-career start of Bradshaw, I gave too long of a leash to Stewart. I didn’t want to give up on him, and live to regret it, as the Steelers famously did with the likes of Lenny Dawson and Johnny Unitas (yikes), way before my time.

My error was that Kordell Stewart was simply not accurate. Yes, he could run, and, yes, he had a big arm – but he couldn’t consistently be accurate. That doesn’t work in the NFL. Drew Brees never had a big arm, but he was accurate. Tom Brady never had a big arm, but he was accurate.

And, in the case of Brady and Brees, they combined that accuracy with a film-study, football junky mind. They worked hard studying the game.

That is the key in the NFL, or you end up a super talent washout like Jamarcus Russell. By all accounts Russell had it all, except he didn’t take the preparation part seriously.

Enter Mason Rudolph.

A third round pick who the Steelers had a first round grade on, and who could very easily have been picked higher had the QB class he was in not been so deep. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson helped him fall to the Steelers.

What I see as clearly evident from Rudolph so far this year, admittedly in a small sample size of preseason and the Seattle game, is that Rudolph has been accurate, even on the move. He doesn’t look scattershot at times like Joshua Dobbs often did, and the aforementioned Kordell Stewart. And, he has a nice touch on deep balls.

Maybe the most important thing is the pile of reports and comments from those within the organization that Rudolph is a film study and football junky when it comes to preparation. I never even heard this about Ben Roethlisberger.

From the time he was drafted, Mason Rudolph has had the right attitude. He was respectful, but not adoring of Ben Roethlisberger, which you often heard from the Landry Jones types that have backed him up. You felt other Pittsburgh rostered QBs knew their place – career backup.

Mason Rudolph wanted the job, and said his goal was to be The Man. That’s what you want, and I didn’t get that feeling with Dobbs, for instance. Moreover, he has studied and prepared to be that man. He is not a first year player, so he has had time in this offense and has taken it very seriously.

And, it showed coming off the bench versus Seattle. Sans that Donte Moncrief caused interception, which turned a short field into easy Seattle points, the Steelers very well win the game. The moment wasn’t too big. Remember Joshua Dobb’s disaster in Oakland when he came in relief last season?

I do. It probably cost the Steelers a playoff berth. Win that game, and they finish 10-5-1. The moment crushed Dobbs.

So, I believe Rudolph is capable of sustaining the offense, and has the chance to be The Man. He has a nice feel with the wide receivers and Vance McDonald.

He also has a running game three-deep in James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell that can grind the offense without wearing out one player, like in the one-back Le’Veon Bell or, even, Willie Parker days. Tomlin famously rode one guy into the ground, and the team suffered come playoff time. Bill Cowher did this, too, with Jerome Bettis. Bettis seemed to always have a nagging groin, or similar type of injury, come playoff time. The offensive line is still an excellent unit to lean on to become more run heavy (as well as protect Rudolph).

And, run-heavy attacks suddenly make the defense look better. It happens all the time. The Minnesota Vikings have a talented defense, but their run first attack only enhances them as they stay fresh on the sidelines. The Dallas Cowboys play the same way. When Jacksonville lost grinder Leonard Fournette to injury last season and replaced him with average talent, their incredible defense no longer looked incredible as they did not establish the run and control clock.

The Steelers defense has been suspect, to be nice, so far. But, this was a unit big things were expected from. Let us not forget that just 14 days ago, there were high hopes from fans to analysts, like Louis Riddick, that this team would have a good defense. In the knee-jerk NFL, often times reactions prevail over reasoning.


But, there is talent on this defense, and it shined off and on against Seattle. The move of picking up safety Minkah Fitzpatrick can only further solidify the unit’s upside. A more clock-grinding running game wouldn’t hurt its development. And, if some of the promise of the preseason comes to fruition, it will go a long way in keeping the Steelers competitive.

Sometimes you need to gel. Remember, there’s a rookie LB in the middle.

The 0-2 hole isn’t nice. That might be the biggest obstacle in trying to rally for a wildcard spot in the AFC. It’s certainly not ideal to be a team with a new QB already down by two games. However, I could have told you two weeks ago that the Ravens would instantly become overhyped out of the gate at 2-0 as Lamar Jackson gets to feast on the historically bad Miami Dolphins defense (and offense), and the terrible Arizona Cardinal defense which was awful before losing both starting CBs, Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford.

Against this talent, the Ravens have proven nothing yet. And, the darlings of the NFL, the Cleveland Browns, got crushed last week, and still have not finished better than 7-8-1 in seemingly decades. They need to prove it first, as well.

I do expect the Browns to play better, though, which brings me to an article I was going to write last year here, but didn’t.

After the drafting of Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, as well as their recent drafts of Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, I felt early on in the 2018 preseason that Cleveland was the team the Steelers would worry about for the next ten years, not the Ravens. I felt their time was right around the corner. I thought Mayfield was a real talent.

This turned out to be true. Yes, there was sentiment out there that the Browns would be better, but not many to the point I felt, and I was going to write about it pretty strong.

Why didn’t I write that article? I mentioned my feelings on the Cleveland Browns to my college-aged son, and he laughed. Let me tell you, when your son is laughing about your article idea – it makes you wonder! Right or wrong, it was never written. I set the idea aside as you sometimes do as a writer, and that was that.

Now that you hear the NFL analyst’s constant Cleveland drumbeat ad nauseum, I bring that up to my son to this day!

So, I’m probably going to get the same laugh out of saying the Mason Rudolph led Pittsburgh Steelers will strongly contend for a wild card berth, if not outright win it.

It’s okay. I’ve been laughed at before.