Forging Blades Or Melting Them Down: The 5-5 Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers Cincinnati Bengals Preview

Last Thursday was like a bar fight. The Steelers were really drunk, Mason Rudolph especially, but the Browns took it way too far. Though the helmet smash over Rudolph looms as the main story of the night, we shouldn’t ignore the awful performance by Mason Rudolph. Rudolph had one touchdown pass (a swing pass to Samuels) and four interceptions. I’m not going to get into the incident because we’ve all heard too much about it. We need to focus on the awful play of the Steelers, namely, their quarterback.

This week, the Steelers are 6.5 favorites against the Bengals with a 38 over/under at PlaySugarHouse.

Reviewing the ugly game against the Browns

Before we get into the negatives, let’s focus on the positives. Two weeks ago, I predicted the Steelers would beat the Rams. It was an unpopular pick. The vast majority of “experts” picked the Rams because, well, they aren’t experts. They don’t have the time to research at the rate that got them their high-profile job.

It’s fine, I had the Steelers beating the Browns last week, so I can be way off sometimes as well. Getting back to the Rams game, the Steelers were able to pressure Goff and force bad passes throughout the contest. Mason Rudolph wasn’t amazing, but he did enough to get this win and that’s all that matters. The team looked good, not great, but Rudolph was serviceable.

Not a pretty game for the Steelers

Now, it’s time for the bad. Mason Rudolph was horrendous last week against the Browns. He was bad under pressure but seemingly worse when he had time in the pocket. His early throw to Juju into a trio of defenders may have been an accurate throw, but it was a bad decision, resulting in Juju sustaining a concussion. Shortly thereafter, Rudolph tried to float one over a defender and the pass was on target but the coverage was too close.

As a result, the ball was popped up and picked off by Burnett. Later, Rudolph stepped into a sack, when he had other options to buy time in the pocket. Later, he threw a ball behind a crossing receiver and right into the trailing defensive back’s hands. Rudolph lost receiver Dionte Johnson when he led him a little too far down the sideline and Johnson was knocked out via a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Browns safety. Once the fourth quarter came, Mason Rudolph sealed the deal for the Browns, tossing a pick to Schobert, who undercut Washington for another ill-advised interception. Later, Rudolph threw perhaps his worst interception of the night when he overthrew the tight end by about five feet and directly into Juston Burris’ waiting hands. We won’t talk about the end because there’s no strategic value to such an incident, other than motivation for the rematch in two weeks.

Overall, it was a very ugly game for the Steelers, but it was all amplified by Rudolph’s poor play. The defense played well enough, given the situations Rudolph put them in. James Conner’s early exit via injury spoiled the potent rushing attack, and the loss of both starting receivers didn’t help matters. The big question now is, do the Steelers start Devlin Hodges over Rudolph going forward?

So who should start this week?

My vote would be for Hodges for the following reasons: Devlin Hodges has a better pocket presence, mobility, and better in the pocket than Rudolph. Watch the tape and you’ll see it’s really not even close. The other major reason is the lack of downfield threats for the Steelers. With Juju and Dionte out, there’s a case to be made the average depth of target going into Sunday’s game SHOULD be drastically low. After all, unless there’s been blown coverage, Rudolph hasn’t been shredding anyone on contested downfield passes. Why not start Hodges, keep the passes short and accurate, and let your running game take the reins this week against the lowly Bengals?

Preview vs the Bengals

This should be the “get right” game for the Steelers. They’ll be facing the lowly Bengals, who are coming off a game where they somehow managed to competently run the ball against the Raiders. Those rushing lanes aren’t going to be very open this week when they face the Steelers, and you can bet the Steelers are going to try to bait Ryan Finley into challenging the Steelers secondary.

I think the Steelers are going to play this one close to the line of scrimmage and keep the attempts shallow on offense. I also expect a heavy dose of rushes against a Bengals team who has been ripped apart by running backs all season. I like the Steelers defense in this game and I think whomever the Steelers put at quarterback this week should have a fine, safe game.

Final Score: Steelers 24 Bengals 17