Progress at quarterback evident

He didn’t achieve any significant statistical bests against the Rams beyond his 38 passing attempts, but Mason Rudolph’s sixth start at quarterback may have been his best yet.

Rudolph completed 22 of those 38 attempts (57.9 percent) for 242 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions in the Steelers’ 17-12 victory last Sunday.

But the way he went about his business may resonate beyond the numbers.

“I think it was his best game of consistently making decisions and putting the ball in proper spots,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said following practice today. “That led to opportunities down the field.

“And he did a nice job with it, put balls in places we could catch them.”

The Steelers didn’t always catch them against the Rams, but Rudolph still impressed.

“I just feel like he’s coming into himself, man,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “It takes time at that position. I know every writer wants the guy to be a Hall-of-Famer as soon as they step in there, but be a little patient.

“You just see it, man, the ball’s down the field, the adjustments, the audibles, him coming out there, just feeling comfortable, standing in the pocket. If you really know football and you watch the games, obviously, you can say over the weeks he’s getting better.”

The in-house reviews had been mixed since Rudolph took over for Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Fichtner lamented the ball not getting down the field when it could have following Rudolph’s first start this season, a 24-20 loss on Sept. 22 in San Francisco.

“You’ve got to throw them,” he said. “You’ve got to throw it. You’ve got to attempt to throw it there.”

Fichtner recognized Rudolph for delivering as necessary after he converted a critical third-and-11 from the Steelers’ 5-yard line on a 12-yard strike to wide receiver Diontae Johnson midway through the second quarter with the Steelers already trailing the Dolphins, 14-0, on Oct. 28.

“That’s playing the position,” Fichtner emphasized in the wake of what became a 27-14 victory. “He did what he was supposed to do on that play.”

When the ball didn’t get from the red zone into the end zone to Fichtner’s satisfaction in a 26-24 win over the Colts on Oct. 28, the message was “you’ve got to be prepared to pull the trigger and live with that consequence.”

Rudolph pulled the trigger against the Rams, particularly during a critical fourth-quarter drive for a field goal that upped the Steelers’ lead to 17-12. He was 6-for-7 passing for 64 yards, including conversions on a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers’ 34, a third-and-4 from the Steelers’ 46, and a third-and-2 from the Rams’ 27, on a 14-play, 60-yard drive that ate up eight minutes of the fourth-quarter clock.

“When the offense catches the ball and hits the ball in the right holes and guys up front are blocking, that’s what happens, guys go down and score points,” Pouncey said.

Rudolph acknowledged progress being made throughout the offense.

“With every game, with every rep you get more comfortable,” he said. “Your experience, it’s the best teacher, that’s where we are. There’s a lot of guys who are just hungry to get every new rep they can, guys in the receiver group, guys who are stepping up for us like Tony Brooks (Brooks-James) in the running game.

“It’s a collective group.”

Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva assessed the Rams game as the best of Rudolph’s six starts, all things considered.

“Absolutely,” Villanueva said. “We need to protect him better. The front we were going against was very good, obviously, but he was able to stay in the pocket, be decisive, throw the ball under pressure and we were able to move the ball and convert some big third downs. That’s not easy to do in the National Football League.

“I think we have to do a much better job supporting him, that’s all I can think about when it comes to Mason Rudolph.”

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