Cautious Approach by Rudolph, Fichtner to be Tested

Steelers OC not willing to let Rudolph have freedom of Roethlisberger yet

Josh Rowntree
November 07, 2019 - 6:00 pm

Mason Rudolph doesn’t want to make a mistake in scoring territory, but knows that he needs to be less cautious than he’s been to this point.

“As an offense, we have to be more aggressive and maybe give our guys those 50-50 shot chances,” Rudolph said after the Steelers’ Thursday practice. “It starts with me there. You know you don’t want to forfeit the three (points) that you’ve got, but we know that, to win in this league, seven versus three points is a big difference. That’s what will separate you from winning a lot of games, and losing.”

It nearly did Sunday, when Rudolph’s offense managed just one touchdown in a 26-24 win over Indianapolis. 

“Until we get that true consistency in those areas, whether it’s third down, whether it’s red zone, goal-to-go- goal line, I think we’re really not going to be as efficient as we want to be, score as many points as we want to score and help our team win,” Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said.

Rudolph completed 26 of 35 passes Sunday, but for just 191 yards. Only eight of those completions went to wide receivers, including just three top top wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster.

“Game to game, there’s different scenarios and teams are playing different coverages,” Rudolph said. “Any time you’ve got star players on your team, you try to get them the ball. That’s our focus every week, making sure that they have adequate touches to make plays, and we know they will.”

To this point, Smith-Schuster has been a good soldier when it comes to Rudolph’s development, and Rudolph’s inability to throw him the ball consistently. 

Part of that is on Rudolph and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. Part of that is on Smith-Schuster, who let a third down pass go through his hands on Pittsburgh’s opening drive against the Colts, resulting in an interception. 

Rudolph, however — and incorrectly — took the blame for that play.

"I thoughts maybe I forced one in there,” he said. “Sometimes the better thing to do, if you look back at the tape, you had a guy in the flat right there who would've gotten you 8-10 (yards). Maybe you don't get the first down, but you help out the net punt that (Fichtner) talks about. 

“We want to play past the sticks, obviously we want to move the chains, but you have to think about the bigger picture with field position and not turning the ball over and putting your defense in a bad spot.”

Sure, asking a first-year starter to complete a pass for a first down on a 3rd and 13 might be a difficult assignment, but Rudolph showed it can be done. The ball should have been caught. The play came from Indianapolis’ 49-yard line, so there would have been little help in terms of the punting game.

And that calls into question the skepticism of Fichtner when it comes to Rudolph’s ability to make plays down the field and in the red zone. It seems as if the trust is still not there, though punter Jordan Berry and kicker Chris Boswell might be appreciative. 

The training wheels are still on the bike. It’s most evident in the red zone, where the Steelers are continually settling for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. 

Fichtner, however, seems to think passing aggression — like what Ben Roethlisberger has the freedom to do — is something that must be earned.

“Ben’s been down that road so many times,” Fichtner said of the opportunities to take risks in opponent territory. “There are many consequences. He’s not afraid to stand up here in front of (reporters), the fans, his owner, his head coach, me, and say ‘hey, my fault.’”

Is Mason Rudolph incapable of taking blame at this point of his career? Or is Fichtner simply unwilling to let that be a possibility.

“There’s definitely a time and a place to push the ball and make a calculated decision and, when it’s not there, to throw the ball out of the end zone or give our guy a chance underneath,” Rudolph said.

'Underneath' might just be the only option Sunday, when the Steelers host the game’s best defensive force in Aaron Donald and possibly its best cornerback in Jalen Ramsey.

Rudolph will get pressured, and Ramsey — who tormented Steelers starter Ben Roethlisberger in their battles — will be attempting to lock down Smith-Schuster.

It’s up to Fichtner and Rudolph to find a way to drive the ball down the field, and not just help out the punting game.

Hear more from Randy Fichtner below.