Mason Rudolph Back in Action: A Return to Hopefully Remember

Mason Rudolph

You could hear a pin drop in Heinz Stadium as fans watched a lifeless looking Mason Rudolph sprawled out on the pitch. His teammates swarmed. Juju Smith-Schuster so shocked he fell to his knees as the medical team ran to respond. The giant knock delivered by Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas rendered Rudolph unconscious before he even hit the ground. The second-string quarterback turned QB1 this season, after Ben Roethlisberger‘s sidelining elbow injury, was escorted off the field and directly into the locker room as fans began to chant “MASON! MASON!” 

Now, fast forward to Week 8 of the season and we see a Pittsburgh organization that just hasn’t been able to hit a consistent stride. Many fans are hoping the return of Rudolph can provide some consistency the team has been missing. 

Mason Rudolph Returns to Action for the Pittsburgh Steelers

“I did not remember the play at all”

In an interview with ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, Rudolph said that he had no memory of hit, “the specialist said that it kind of shut off my brain, not my spinal cord, but my stem.” Rudolph fully cleared concussion protocol two weeks ago and is expected to make his return against the Miami Dolphins for Monday Night Football.

Despite clearing concussion protocol, Rudolph’s health remains a concern. The league has made head trauma a priority this season tightening restrictions on helmet-to-helmet infractions and even helmet restrictions – as Antonio Brown and the Oakland Raiders can tell you. But the nature of head trauma in the NFL as a self-reported injury leaves many players vulnerable to re-injure themselves by returning before they’re ready.

Earlier this year, retired NFL player Rob Gronkowski told CBS News that he suffered over 20 concussions in his career as a footballer and could remember at least five ‘blackouts’ or hits that caused memory loss. Only time will tell if Rudolph is truly ready to take the field again but even his own teammates are concerned. 

A longtime teammate, James Washington, told Pryor it will just be a matter of Rudolph settling into the play of the game after such a huge knock. 

“I think it’s going to take a few plays because you can’t get hurt and then think about it the next week.”

What Does Rudolph’s Return Mean for Pittsburgh’s Offense?

Ready or not, here he comes. 

Plagued by injuries and a comparatively youthful base, the Steelers offense has had a bleak showing this season. Currently ranked 28th in passing offense and 26th in rushing offense, Pittsburgh is in some desperate need of consistency on the offensive. 

Monday’s matchup against the dismal Dolphins offers the Steelers a boost that they most definitely need. This game is reminiscent of Pittsburgh’s Week 4 domination over the 0-3 Cincinnati Bengals. A “gimme” at best. There is no serious concern that the Steelers run the risk of losing this game.

Rudolph and his offense can take the opportunity here to evolve their game. Conservative play-calling combined with Rudolph’s inability to remain consistent with his passing game has stifled explosive offensive players like Juju Smith-Schuster. 

Miami’s terrible run defense will be no match for Pittsburgh’s rushing juggernaut James Conner. But head coach Mike Tomlin and his offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner need to take off the training wheels. They need to let Rudolph acclimate himself in the passing offense that the Steelers franchise can produce some success in. 

Play to Your Strengths

It’s no secret that this season has placed a premium on young, mobile quarterbacks. The likes of Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, and Daniel Jones with their ability to scramble and produce yards under defensive pressure has been key to success. A key the Steelers haven’t been able to find under Rudolph’s offensive leadership. 

Rudolph is large for a quarterback at 6’5″ and 240 pounds. His stocky build makes it incredibly rare for him to get moving in the same way as some of the major movers in the quarterback arena. His offense and offensive play-callers are going to have to help him out in a major way. 

Rudolph’s quarterback rating was higher on deep throws than on short throws. The best way for this Steelers offense to capitalize on their young QB1 is to open up the field and truly let him find targets deep. Bringing players like Smith-Schuster and Rudolph’s longtime teammate James Washington could be the turnaround moment of the season for the 2-4 Steelers.

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