The Steelers' offense didn’t pass the ball down the field consistently in San Francisco.
It wasn’t by design.
“I don’t know if it was conservative,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said today regarding the gameplan in Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the 49ers. “I thought we put ourselves in position. We had some opportunity, throws, even, for some shots. If you don’t connect or throw them, it never really materializes.
“We were able to go down the field early, you gotta throw ’em. You gotta throw it. You gotta attempt to throw it there.”
Quarterback Mason Rudolph finished 14-for-27 passing for 174 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, in his second NFL appearance and first NFL start.
The touchdowns went for 76 yards on a catch-and-run connection to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (65 yards were amassed after the catch) and for 39 yards to wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a deep ball Johnson hauled in 2 yards before the goal line.
Rudolph’s 12 completions that didn’t end up in the end zone wound up gaining a combined 59 yards (4.92 yards per).
Rudolph, in retrospect, acknowledged passing on some opportunities to drive the ball down the field, especially early.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said after practice today. “Opportunities in the first quarter, really in the first couple drives, that I could have been a little more aggressive towards, so learning experiences. I’m an aggressive person, that’s who I’ve always been at the quarterback position.
“A little unlike me.”
Fichtner also cited numerous nuances of a play that potentially contributed when shots weren’t taken in his weekly media session following practice.
“Whether he’s hesitant or didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t like the matchup or not, those things all go into play,” Fichtner said. “It could have been protection, maybe he had to step a certain way, had to get off of it.
“I’m not second-guessing Mason at all. We’re gonna try to be as aggressive as we can from start to finish.”
Rudolph is in line to make his second NFL start and first at Heinz Field when the Steelers host the Bengals on Monday night.
The transition to starter is slowing down for him by the week, he maintained.
“Yes, for sure,” Rudolph said. “It’s my second week going through the whole process with the guys, with the offensive line, it’s valuable reps. The meeting time, now it’s kind of my deal so it’s more focused around what do I like in preparation and gameplanning. Randy’s been great with opportunities to provide input in what I like and that’s really helpful.
“You’re taking what the defense gives you. I do love pushing the ball down the field. And chunk plays, like Coach (Mike) Tomlin says, eliminates a lot of execution. We enjoy taking those chunk plays. At the same time, if that’s not there, if they’re not having it, you gotta be smart with the ball and check it down and maybe not force it into those tight windows.”
Rudolph’s learning curve also involves understanding when shots need to be taken.
“The tight windows are big windows at this level,” he said. “You have to adjust and understand, you gotta trust your guys to make plays and throw to spots and not necessarily people.”
The Steelers prepare for the Week 4 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals