When Ben Roethlisberger suffered his season-ending injury, the Steelers' postseason chances may have suffered a similar fate. The offense tailored to the Canton-bound quarterback. Very few quarterbacks in this league could come in and run the system Ben prefers.
Enter Mason Rudolph.
When the Steelers drafted Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 draft, they felt like they were getting a steal. Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the Steelers' war room had a first-round grade on the Oklahoma State product. Even while needing to address huge areas of need like inside linebacker, they drafted Rudolph instead.
Of course, any time a team with an aging franchise quarterback drafts a quarterback, speculation rises. Is this the guy who could take the torch? Is this guy the future franchise quarterback? Or is this another Landry Jones?
After a rookie season cemented as the third-string quarterback, Rudolph is now the starting quarterback. And after an impressive second half in relief against Seattle, seemingly unfair expectations arose among Steeler Nation. Maybe, just maybe, this talented, young quarterback could still take the Steelers to the postseason.
What happened instead was an ultra-conservative gameplan in San Francisco that arguably cost them points and a victory. The Steelers salvaged an 0-4 start by dismantling a horrid Bengals team, meanwhile, the conservative gameplan remained.
Things seemed to be turning a corner the following week against Baltimore, but plans were put on hold when Rudolph was knocked out cold by Earl Thomas that sidelined Rudolph for the following week against the Chargers.
At 2-4 and coming off their bye week, Rudolph is now healthy. They are hosting an even worse team than Cincinnati in Miami on Monday Night Football. They are wearing their color rush uniforms, which they hold a 4-0 record when they don those beauties.
Let it fly.
Take the training wheels off, get the receivers running intermediate-to-deep routes and challenge this team. Get players like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington more involved in the offense.
Of course, that doesn't mean abandon the run game. James Conner should find success against Miami's terrible run defense, and the Steelers may get Jaylen Samuels back sooner than expected.
This, however, is a great opportunity to allow Rudolph to take calculated risks. Allowing him to throw the ball down the field opens up the run game, stretches out the defense, and most importantly, could give this young quarterback some serious confidence if everything goes well.
In the bigger picture, the Steelers need to see exactly what they have in Rudolph. These conservative gameplans and handcuffing this kid. It's impossible to see what Rudolph is capable of when they consistently have him playing like a game-manager.
If the Steelers are truly still trying to compete in 2019, the training wheels have to come off either way. Teams like the Colts, Rams, Bills, or Ravens aren't going to be beaten by ultra-conservative play-calling. If the reigns are going to be given to Rudolph eventually, why not start with the really bad team remaining on the schedule?
There's a lot of intrigue surrounding Rudolph and what kind of quarterback he could be in the NFL. He's got great tools and instincts. They need to be refined at the NFL level. Sometimes the best way for anything to be refined is to throw it directly in the fire.