MASON RUDOLPH threw two touchdowns in a back-up effort, Sept. 15, against the Seahawks. He’s now the starter for the rest of the season after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury earlier in the game. (Photo by Courier photographer Brian Cook Sr.)
by Mike Pelaia, For New Pittsburgh Courier
After an 0-2 start, the Steelers season is on the verge of being over before it ever really began.
After a dud against the New England Patriots, followed by a disappointing home-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Sept. 15, the Steelers find themselves in a must-win position when they travel to San Francisco in Week 3, Sunday, Sept. 22.
To make matters worse, they’ll have to do so while battling injuries to Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, Vince Williams and Sean Davis. We know now that Big Ben is out for the year with elbow surgery, so Mason Rudolph at least looks like he’s ready for his first-ever start. He went 12-for-19 for 112 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against the Seahawks, Sept. 15. The only interception he threw wasn’t his fault—Donte Moncrief let a ball slip right out of his hands.
Through two games, it appears Moncrief was a bad signing and one that is now costing the Steelers games. In order for the Steelers to beat the 49ers this upcoming Sunday, they’ll need a legitimate number two receiver to help out JuJu Smith-Schuster, much like Smith-Schuster used to help Antonio Brown. The Steelers thought they had that No. 2 guy in Moncrief. But through two games, that experiment has failed and they must move on from him. They cannot afford an 0-2 record to turn into a three-game season-opening slide. I think it’s James Washington time. What better way to help out Rudolph than to pair him up with Washington, his favorite college receiver from their days at Oklahoma State and one he threw to quite often in the preseason.
Speaking of preseason, after having watched two pitiful performances by most of the Steelers starters, it was hard to miss the fact that starters like Roethlisberger, Conner and a few others have been struggling to get going while, when called upon, Rudolph, Jaylen Samuels and even rookie Benny Snell are outperforming them. It has to make people wonder, like it makes me wonder, if the fact that those starters didn’t play much at all in the preseason has anything to do with both rustiness and not being in football shape. Hence the poor play and now injuries.
Mike Tomlin and his staff may need to look at that next summer when they come into camp hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in a few years. Oops, did I say that out loud? Yeah, the Steelers don’t appear to be headed towards anything this season.
To make matters worse, the coaching staff has been seriously out-strategized two times in two weeks. Randy Fichtner looks lost as a coordinator, consistently calling plays that don’t fit the flow of the game. The only time the plays work are when Roethlisberger runs a no-huddle and that’s out of the question now.
And as far as the defense goes, Keith Butler shouldn’t have a job. There isn’t another way to put it. The guy has had several seasons now to right this ship and it hasn’t happened. This supposedly-improved 2019 Steelers defense isn’t any good. The secondary, once again, is lacking. They have talent, they don’t have coaching. Like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson shredded that defense with pinpoint precision. They can’t come up with the right play call on third down and they are unable to sustain a pass rush through the entirety of a football game when the opposition makes adjustments and Butler doesn’t.
It’s obvious the Steelers brass saw this problem, so they went out and acquired talented safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins a few days ago—for the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2020. A steep price for the Steelers to pay, but they feel it’s worth it to help shore up the defense.
As the Steelers travel to San Francisco this upcoming week, things look bleak. Jimmy Garappolo may not be Brady or Wilson but he’s certainly more than capable of picking apart this Steelers secondary, especially if the front seven can’t get to him.
Kyle Shanahan is an offensive mastermind and he will have his team prepared and able to make adjustments. Taking his offensive game-planning skills against Butler’s, the edge goes to Shanahan every time.
The Steelers will have to come out with heavy pressure on defense, contain the run and keep Garappolo in the pocket. If the safeties blow their assignments, as they have most of this season, it’s another loss for the Steelers.
In addition to the defense, the offense needs to run the football, especially with Rudolph playing. He looked good for one half but there’s now film on him out there for teams to study. It won’t be as smooth-looking when teams have time to prepare. I think Samuels and Snell can carry the load if Conner is unable to go, but I also think this all adds up to another Steelers loss this coming weekend.
They came into 2019 with high hopes but as they limp across the country to play a 2-0 49ers team with the season virtually on the line, they don’t appear ready to take on anyone at the moment. I think the 49ers will win, 31-20.
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