It was a very polarizing topic throughout 2019. Some people felt that the Steelers quarterbacks could do nothing right since they weren’t wearing a number seven on their chest. While the 2019 season ultimately was a disappointment as the Steelers did not make the playoffs, quarterback play was a large reason behind the Steelers shortcomings. But was there anything positive from the quarterback position which can be taken into the 2020 season? Most likely, depending on which side you want to argue a case could be made.
Although this subject could easily be given as a point/counterpoint by Brian Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo, I’m taking it upon myself to argue both sides of the case. I will first have to admit that I was a big fan of the Steelers drafting Mason Rudolph in 2017. When Ben Roethlisberger did not return for the second half against the Seahawks, part of me was interested to see how Rudolph would do in the situation. And when Big Ben was deemed out for the year, I was hoping Rudolph would seize the opportunity to show he was worthy of the Steelers taking him early in the third round.
Unfortunately, Rudolph did not live up to either mine or many others expectations for 2019. But was everything bad? Did he show he was not ready to be an NFL back-up quarterback? Before he can even begin to be deemed a capable starter, the reserve role must be one he can handle.
So here are some arguments on each end of the spectrum as to how we should view Mason Rudolph’s 2019 season.
All things considered, he did just fine
Mason Rudolph finished the 2019 season with a 5-3 record as a starter. He was tied with Josh Allen is the 14th best winning percentage of the 57 quarterbacks who started a game in 2019. Rudolph appeared in 10 games, four of which he played approximately half the offensive snaps. His only losses on the season was a West Coast road game in his first ever NFL start against the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers. His other two losses came at home to the AFC’s number one seed in a game he was unable to finish due to injury, and a game on the road on a short week.
Although Rudolph threw nine interceptions, he did have 13 touchdowns. Almost half of Rudolph’s interceptions came in one game which happened to be the only time he had multiple turnovers in a game all season. Rudolph also ranked 12th in the NFL in aggressiveness which is measured by throws to a player who has a defender within 1 yard of them.
Rudolph also didn’t have much help from a rushing attack as the Steelers only went over 100 yards rushing in two of his eight starts. His receivers also weren’t necessarily doing him any favors as Rudolph’s first interception should have been caught for a first down instead of going through the hapless hands of Donte Moncrief.
Mason Rudolph was also dealing with some unfortunate circumstances throughout the season. Making some nice plays in what might have been his best drive of the season at the time, Rudolph was knocked unconscious on the field against the Baltimore Ravens which may have shaken his confidence for the rest of the season. After having a rough outing on the road in Cleveland during a short week, the incident where he was struck on the head by his own helmet and the allegations brought forth against him the following week, Rudolph’s mind might not have been in the right place for such a young player.
After being sat down for three straight games, Rudolph came into the Week 16 against the Jets and helped put up the teams only points of the game before leaving with an injury which ended his season. Coming back after adversity and having a positive outing to finish up the year may be exactly what Rudolph needed going into the 2020 off-season.
For a team being carried by the defense, Rudolph couldn’t come through
Yes, Rudolph had a winning record as a starter, but he was not the reason they were winning. The offense was constantly letting the Steelers dominant defense down on so many levels. With five takeaways against San Francisco and the team managing only six points, the Steelers ended up taking the loss. Getting multiple takeaways a game up until the debacle in Cleveland, the offense just couldn’t get anything done with their opportunities. With the exception of the game against the Indianapolis Colts, if the Steelers gave up more than 20 points on defense it was a loss.
Rudolph wasn’t getting much support from the run game, but it was more about his inability to take advantage of teams dedicating more defenders into the box against the run. Defenses weren’t fearing him to throw the ball down field, therefore the run game couldn’t get it wheels going. Had the passing game been any threat, the run game would have benefited.
Of course, two of Rudolph’s losses were against the number one seeds from each division. But what about the wins? The only team the Steelers beat under Rudolph who finished the season with a winning record was the 9-7 Los Angeles Rams. In that game, the defense basically only gave up a field goal as the Rams scored a defensive touchdown and had a safety.
Not one time during the season did Rudolph throw for more than 300 yards, and only once did he reach 250 yards in the air. The defense was putting the offense in great situations, and Rudolph just couldn’t put up the points to get enough victories to put the Steelers in the playoffs. Not only that, he couldn’t even hold the job for the entire season in favor of an undrafted rookie free agent.
So where does Rudolphs 2019 season really lie? Honestly, it’s probably somewhere in between these two extremes. But I’ve seen both of these arguments laid out depending on how people want to spin the season. What could be a better idea is to simply give Rudolph an incomplete because it might be more important is how he responds for the Steelers in 2020.