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Are Mason Rudolph and Minkah Fitzpatrick really the answer for the Steelers?

Can the Pittsburgh Steelers salvage the 2019 season with their two new starters?

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have lost two ugly games in two tries, and get to face the rest of their season without the biggest name in the franchise, Ben Roethlisberger (Seriously, 14 letters in a last name? Who can compete with that?).

But Mason Rudolph isn’t the only change going forward, as an injury to Sean Davis helped prod the Steelers to trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick to be the Steelers FS going forward. But is this just a band-aid on a gushing wound, or a move for next year? Can the Steelers compete in the AFC North with the current roster?

A few stats say that it’s likely they will actually be much better than we’ve seen them be.

Mason Rudolph vs. Ben Roethlisberger

In 6 quarters Ben Roethlisberger threw 62 passes for 351 yards, 0 TDs and 1 interception. The Steelers added 67 yards rushing on 21 attempts, for 411 yards divided up among 16 possessions.

That’s an average of 25.7 yards per drive. Those 16 drives resulted in 13 points, an average of 0.8 points per drive. Those averages are good for 26th in yards per drive and 30th in points per drive, only the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets scored fewer points per possession than the Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers in 2019, if you look at the QB situations on those two teams, it really reveals how bad Roethlisberger was playing.

Mason Rudolph has played one half of a football game, but his numbers with the Steelers offense are significantly better. Mason threw 19 passes for 112 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception. The run game added 46 yards on 8 carries for 158 yards in 5 possessions.

With Mason Rudolph the Steelers gained 31.6 yards per drive, and scored 17 points, averaging 3.4 points per drive. Those averages would rank 17th in yards per drive, and 4th in points per drive.

Obviously these stats have to be viewed as a small sample size, but Mason Rudolph in that small sample size moved the ball effectively and scored points.

One of my favorite stats is Drive Success Rate (DSR). DSR simply takes the number of times a team had a first down, and looks at how many of those first down series ended with a conversion or TD. Basically how often a team can turn a first down into another first down or a TD. That’s the goal on offense every single time you get the ball, so I think it’s a pretty good stat. It also shows the gap between the Roethlisberger Steelers of 2019 and the Rudolph Steelers of 2019. The Steelers under Ben have a DSR of 58.3%, and 76.9% under Rudolph.

Seriously, outside of Donte Moncrief’s drop INT, the Mason Rudolph led Steelers were in the running for the most effective offenses in the NFL. Again, you really, REALLY can’t draw long term conclusions from 5 drives in a game that the opponent had planned to face Roethlisberger. People who did that after Landry Jones had a good game replacing Ben looked pretty foolish the next week, and I bet you still chuckle about it.

I know a lot of people are going to say, “Yeah, but Rudolph didn’t face New England, of course his stats are better.” To which I reply that outside of a TD drive where the only yards gained by the offense was a 1 yard TD run from James Conner, there wasn’t much difference in offensive output between New England and Seattle. Not much at all.

If Mason Rudolph can be competent as a QB, the Steelers offense will be significantly better than they were with what Ben Roethlisberger was able to give us this season.

Ben for 6 quarters was not at all the QB we are used to. Even bad games for Ben aren’t that bad. The only teams with worse QB play were teams with injured QBs, and guess what, that’s what the Steelers had, an injured QB.

Minkah Fitzpatrick vs. Kameron Kelly/Sean Davis

Minkah Fitzpatrick is the biggest in-season trade the Steelers have ever made. If you can think of an in-season trade by the Steelers involving bigger stakes I’ll let you pick my next article topic.

But can he be the difference in this defense that looks as bad as any we’ve seen in decades? Yes. It may surprise you, but it won’t take much, if the following stats hold up.

The Steelers have given up 61 points and 890 yards so far on 22 drives, averages of 40.5 yards and 2.77 points given up per drive. Both rank 28th in the NFL, it is really hard to be worse.

So how can one player make that much of a difference? Well, for that let’s look at Sean Davis and Kameron Kelly, and the difference in defensive results with each.

vs. New England (all Kelly)

10 drives, 465 yards, 33 points. 46.5 yards, 3.3 points per drive.

Vs. Seattle before Sean Davis was injured:

7 drives, 207 yards, 7 points. 29.6 yards, 1 point per drive.

vs. Seattle after Davis was injured:

5 drives, 218 yards, 21 points. 43.6 yards, 4.2 points per drive.

If you look at per play stats:

Healthy Davis: 5.24 yards per play, 0.16 points per play.

Injured Davis: 6.63 yards per play, 0.52 points per play.

**Davis was injured on the 2nd play of the Seahawks 2nd TD drive, the Seahawks gained 15 yards on those 2 plays, I left those 15 yards out of the drive numbers entirely**

**Davis returned after injury for a few more snaps, but was clearly not doing well**

Similar to the Ben Roethlisberger vs. Mason Rudolph stats, the statistics correlate more to whether Davis was hurt than to the opponent they were facing.

In order to “save” the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, all Minkah Fitzpatrick has to do is help them play to the level they were playing when Sean Davis was healthy.

In order to turn the Steelers season around, all the team really needs is for Mason Rudolph to be a league average QB and Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Steelers defense to play like the defense did against Seattle when Sean Davis was healthy.

If they can do more that that? This team could still make a push for the playoffs.