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Film Study: Takeaways from Mason Rudolph’s NFL Debut

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With all the attention on Deflategate 2.0, former Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph’s performance during his NFL preseason debut has been relatively overlooked.  Rudolph quietly had a pretty impressive night last Thursday going 7 for 12 for 101 yards and looked very comfortable in the pocket.  In addition, he didn’t turn the ball over and led the Steelers to three field goal scoring drives in the second half.

I wanted to take a look at some of the positive and negative takeaways from Rudolph’s first NFL outing.  All of the clips below are from the second half, which Rudolph started and finished for the Steelers.

Positive Takeaways

In this first clip, Rudolph hits Steelers’ rookie wide receiver Damoun Patterson on an out route. Rudolph looks really comfortable in the pocket and hits Patterson right after his break. Great throw from the rookie QB to move the chains.

This was a throw we saw Rudolph complete to Marcell Ateman on multiple occasions in their time together in Stillwater.

Next, we see Rudolph hit Patterson again, this time on a post for an 18-yard gain.  Rudolph puts the ball right in Patterson’s chest so that the defender, who had pretty good coverage on Patterson, couldn’t make a play on the ball. Rudolph places the ball in a nice window on this throw, over the linebackers and in front of the defensive backs. I’m sure Patterson didn’t enjoy the hit, but great all around play here by the two Pittsburgh rookies.

When you watch the next video, I’m sure your first reaction will be “Seriously, a screen pass to the running back?”. I’m not saying this is an incredibly difficult play, but some of these big armed quarterbacks can throw it a mile on a rope, but can’t accurately toss it five feet. It’s good to see Rudolph doesn’t have this issue. Additionally, he hits Stevan Ridley in stride out of the backfield which allows him to get some nice yardage after the catch.

In this next video, I don’t really have much else to say besides #Rudolph2Washington.  Third and 8? James Washington with one-on-one coverage on the outside? Just throw it up to him and he’ll make a play. And, that’s exactly what Rudolph does here. I’m not gonna lie, I got pretty emotional after this one.

Throughout the half, Rudolph did a fairly nice job of avoiding pressure and getting rid of the football. Whether this was for a completion, or just to avoid the sack, I was really impressed by the poise he showed in the pocket.

Negative Takeaways

One of the biggest changes for Rudolph going from college to the NFL is playing under center. For the most part, he looked pretty comfortable under center either handing the ball off or dropping back to pass. However, there were a couple of miscues with the running back on hand offs and he did fumble a snap, which apparently has been a problem for him during training camp. Luckily, Rudolph was able to fall on the football, but not a great look for the former Cowboy.

Rudolph was also sacked twice. The first, shown in the video below, didn’t look to be Rudolph’s fault. You can see in the clip that Rudolph makes a hand signal towards James Washington. This is to indicate the route that Rudolph wants his former Oklahoma State teammate to run. With the corner back about eight yards off of Washington, I’m going to assume that Rudolph was asking for a slant route. There was some miscommunication and Rudolph has nowhere to go with the football after he sees Washington is not running the slant. He makes a smart decision to just take the sack and not force anything.

However, on the second sack, some of the blame definitely lies with Rudolph. The Philadelphia Eagles do a great job of bringing pressure on this play which pushes Rudolph out of the pocket. Rudolph then tries to reset, instead of continuing to move towards the sideline, and he gets swarmed by the Eagles’ defenders. The Eagles are able to knock the ball out of Rudolph’s hands, but luckily the Steelers fall back on top of it. It would’ve probably been a better move to continue towards the sideline and throw the ball away… especially with a big lead late in the game. In addition, Rudolph knew the sack was inevitable a few moments before he was hit, and he really needs to do a better job of protecting the football in situations like this.

Overall, in regards to his pass attempts, there weren’t too many negatives. Of his five incompletions, one was a drop, one was with a deflated football, and one was to avoid a sack which I showed in a video above. If you take away those three, there isn’t really too much to criticize on his throws.

Overall Grade: B. I didn’t think it was worthy of an A, seeing as how he had some ball security issues and made a few other mistakes in his half of play. However, I believe it was definitely an above average performance primarily attributable to some good looking throws, confidence in the pocket and the ability to lead the offense down the field and put points on the board (even thought it was all field goals). If one of those two fumbles had resulted in a turnover, I might be telling a different story, but they didn’t and I thought Rudolph looked pretty good in his first outing as a Steeler.

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