By Jeremy Hritz
The door on who will be the backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger has closed, right?
By all accounts and purposes, the job appears to belong to Mason Rudolph who while has been unspectacular this preseason, has been steady and productive. Where he has not be effective is in the red area, failing to convert drives into more than 3 points. Heading into the contest against the Detroit Lions, it was speculated that Dwayne Haskins would enter the game following Rudolph, but that never materialized, and it was assumed this was the endorsement of the Oklahoma State product as the QB2 for the 2021 season.
On Wednesday, Mike Tomlin announced that Haskins would get the start against the Panthers on Friday night and would play the majority of the game, with Rudolph taking no snaps, and more than likely Joshua Dobbs getting a few. Tomlin stated, “We’re excited to get to see him with more opportunities,” and opportunities he will get, as the Panthers will present their first team defense in the game. While the Steelers will not play many of their starters, this will be as close Haskins will come this preseason to playing with the first stringers, and there is some anticipation to see what he can do.
But that doesn’t mean he still has an opportunity to close the gap on Rudolph… does it?
Friend of The Steel Study, and respected, long-time Steelers beat writer, Jim Wexell Tweeted yesterday, “Dwayne Haskins can steal the no. 2 job Friday night. After not directed a TD drive this preseason, Mason Rudolph is vulnerable.”
Wexell is correct in his assessment of Rudolph’s shortcomings in producing points, and there have been question marks surrounding his game all preseason. However, is it enough to have cracked the door just enough to present the opportunity for Haskins to sneak through?
While prior to the Lions game, I believed there was the possibility for Haskins to overtake QB2, once Rudolph was identified as coming in to relieve Ben, I interpreted that move to indicate the closing of the deal. And Rudolph played somewhat well in that contest, finishing 13/18 for 138 yards; however, not to belabor the point, he did not lead the team to touchdowns, and he nearly throw a bad interception that would have completely undone what otherwise was a stable game.
Through the preseason, Rudolph has been serviceable, completing 27/36 passes for 299 yards (75% completion percentage), no touchdowns, and no interceptions. Haskins’ stats are similar, 28/42 for 271 yards (66% completion percentage) and 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions. Quantitatively, there is no massive discrepancy that elevates one signal caller over the other.
What has continued to be the trend for Rudolph this preseason is what has marked his game since he came into the league, and that is his indecisiveness in the pocket and hesitancy to make timely decisions. As a result of this, bad plays are the outcome in the form of turnovers, sacks, and missed big-play opportunities. And it is this trait that has hindered his ability to convert scoring drives.
Do I believe the door is still open for Haskins Friday night? I don’t, as I think the stability and familiarity with Rudolph makes him the safe option, at least for this year, as the backup to Big Ben. Why else would they extend his contract for a year? Unless the team believes he has not made the progress they desired, then he could be the #3, but the tangible evidence in front of us just does not add up.
If Haskins has an incredible showing against the Panthers, maybe it will give the Steelers pause for reflection, but I think at this point, they have their quarterback hierarchy established and are ready to move forward.