Labriola On

Labriola on 'open,' Cowher's take, arbitrary flags

Ready or not, here it comes:

• When it comes to the job description for a successful NFL quarterback, being a studier, a film rat, a perfectionist all are good qualities to have. But to be a successful quarterback in the NFL, the perfectionist gene is best if it’s seasoned by confidence, by an attitude that allows for the perfectionist to take chances and not always perceive them as chances.

• Mason Rudolph will make his second NFL start on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, and he is a studier, a film rat, and a perfectionist. Making a mistake is painful for him, and if that mistake comes in the form of a turnover, well, that’s root canal painful.

• And while a quarterback who is careful with the football is what every coach prefers, he’s also someone respected by his teammates for not losing games singlehandedly with bunches of turnovers, But it’s a mistake to advance from careful to tentative, and that’s often an issue with inexperienced quarterbacks.

• There was a stage of training camp where Rudolph seemed to be holding onto the ball unnecessarily before deciding where to go with it, but then as camp progressed and the preseason arrived he became more decisive, and as a result, more effective. In Levi’s Stadium last Sunday, Rudolph was careful with the football, not wanting to put his team in a hole with a careless mistake, but he also may have missed an opportunity or two to make the kind of play down the field that can propel a visiting team to a victory.

• When the 49ers opening possession ended after three plays with T.J. Watt’s interception, Rudolph’s first offensive play as an NFL starting quarterback was a pass. If he had been more experienced, maybe more confident, he might have gone to tight end Vance McDonald, who was running down the seam. He was “open” by NFL standards, but instead Rudolph checked down to James Conner, who caught the pass and was tackled immediately for no gain.

• Instead of being energized by a takeaway that quickly became a 7-0 lead with one flick of their young quarterback’s right arm, the Steelers were looking at second-and-10.

• One of the things young quarterbacks have to learn about the NFL is what’s considered open for a receiver. “Open” in the NFL is different than “open” in college, even at the highest level, and a young quarterback has to understand that and have the confidence to take advantage of an “open” receiver and try to make a play for his team.

• Rudolph has the arm strength and the accuracy to make those kinds of plays, but he still has to develop the confidence in himself and the understanding of the difference between aggressive and careless. As Bill Cowher used to say about so many such things at the NFL level, “It’s a fine line.”

• Speaking of Cowher, he will be part of the four-man class inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor during an event on Sunday night, Sept. 29, at Heinz Field. In doing a story on the Class of 2019, Jim Wexell had reason to contact Cowher, and after discussing the Hall of Honor and what it meant to him to be so recognized, Cowher got around to talking about the 2019 Steelers.

• “I think they’re going to get better as the season goes along,” Cowher told Wexell. “You see a lot of breakdowns right now, but that’s part of the growing pains that you have to go through when you have new players playing with each other. So I think they’ll get better as the season goes along. It’s a great opportunity right now for Mason and that offense. They need some people to step up and see what their roles can be, and then you start to play to those strengths.”

• This point originally was made by Craig Wolfley, a former Steelers guard who now covers the team as a member of the media, including his gig as the sideline reporter on WDVE’s radio broadcasts of the team’s games, and is makes a lot of sense. For an offensive lineman, the key to making the running game successful is to move his defensive opponent off the line of scrimmage, and the way this is done is by getting low and using leverage to move a 300-pound man in a direction against his will.

• Makes sense and it’s supported by the laws of physics, but it’s also contradicted by having those offensive linemen in a two-point stance, as they are in the shotgun formation. On first down, for example, the defensive linemen would be in a three-point stance, and if the offensive linemen are in a two-point stance because they’re in the shotgun, the defense automatically is lower and then would have an instant leverage advantage at the snap of the ball.

• Certainly there is a way to run the ball effectively from the shotgun, and there undoubtedly are players, both linemen and backs, who are proficient at it, but then again, physics is physics.

• Let me get this straight, because sometimes I get confused. When the Steelers traded a former fourth-round draft pick – quarterback Josh Dobbs – for a fifth-round pick, they didn’t get enough in return. Then when they traded for a former third-round pick – tight end Nick Vannett – in exchange for a fifth-round pick, they gave up too much.

• One question: In the midst of all of the preseason chatter about wanting to get something in a trade for Dobbs and exhorting the Steelers to do something, anything to strengthen the depth chart at tight end, if the Steelers had traded Dobbs for Vannett, would that have been OK? Or would the Steelers still be mortgaging their future?

• This is an example of why I have such a disdain for NFL officiating:

• During the offseason, the NFL made the practice of what is referred to as “backside holding” a point of emphasis, a tactic where offensive linemen wrap their arms around a defensive player when blocking on the backside of a running play. Making it a point of emphasis means even though that particular tactic has been illegal since forever, on-field officials weren’t calling it all the time. Maybe because that very tactic didn’t have any impact on the play, and hey, since when are fewer penalties in a game a bad thing?

• But anyway, that was changed with this point of emphasis, and typical of the NFL it was changed to a point of going overboard. There were 188 offensive holding penalties called in the first 33 games of the 2019 season, including 10 during a Thursday night game between Jacksonville and Tennessee. That works out to an average of almost six offensive holding penalties per game. Just offensive holding.

• It was Titans-Jaguars on Thursday night that got Tom Brady to use social media to express what everybody who was trying to watch that game had to be thinking and feeling as it was happening. The officiating crew working the game was headed by referee Shawn Hochuli – Ed Hochuli’s son and someone who surely should able to spell n-e-p-o-t-i-s-m by this point in his life – called 20 penalties, and they started the flag fest on the very first snap of the game.

• Once the first half ended with 15 penalties called, eight of those for holding, Brady sounded off on Twitter. “Too many penalties. Just let us play!!!” then a bit later, Brady followed with, “I’m turning off this game I can’t watch these ridiculous penalties anymore.”

• Troy Aikman was part of the crew broadcasting that game, and he made note of Brady’s tweets on the air. “Tom Brady is one of the least controversial people we have in our game,” said Aikman. “He is league royalty. When he makes a statement like that, that should get somebody’s attention.”

• It did get somebody’s attention, and while Brady likely saved the football-watching public by speaking out, the NFL immediately reacted, and the number of holding calls per game being sliced in half before the end of the weekend is proof of how wishy-washy and arbitrary the whole process is. What was a penalty on Thursday night in Jacksonville wasn’t a penalty by the time the Bears and Redskins kicked off on Monday night.

• For his part, Brady back-tracked quicker than he does when going from under center into the pocket, and he was said to have voiced this opinion in an interview shortly after his outburst on Twitter hit the mainstream media. “I’m very pro-ref,” said Brady.

• Indeed he is and is rewarded because of that, for as Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan told The Miami Herald, after a legal hit on Brady during the Sept. 15 game between Miami and New England, a member of that game’s officiating crew told him, “Stay off Tom.”

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