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Rudolph can give Miami a bloody nose in Monday Night Football
Head coach Mike Tomlin used to have a three-wheeled wagon at his disposal. There were no brakes on the offensive troika that Ben Roethlisberger drove, as he targeted wideout Antonio Brown and stud running man Le'Veon Bell to devastating effect. Now, however, ill-timed injury and drafting has put Mason Rudolph at the controls, and the 24-year-old has certainly slowed things down in Pittsburgh whose Steelers have spluttered and stalled to 2-4 for the unfolding regular season.
Fortunately for Steeler Nation, the Monday Night Lights now shine a few rays of resuscitation, illuminating an even worse outfit in opposition this evening: the 0-6 Miami Dolphins. In any case, Rudolph, who returns to action late tonight after passing concussion protocols, hasn't faired too poorly in a brief run up until his week 5 knockout.
In fact, with embryonic passer ratings checking in around the low 90s, it seems Pittsburgh has got a solid if unspectacular hand on the tiller in Big Ben's regrettable absence.
More encouragingly, though, despite the niggles and naysayers (the Steelers presently probe the lows of 28th in the league for passing offense, and 26th in rushing) Rudolph takes the snaps behind a stalwart O-line which has allowed only six sacks this term.
In short, they can take the heat, particularly if it's being brought by Miami's power-puff pass rush. Rudolph now faces a defense ranked stone-cold last in conceded yards per attempt, permitted passer rating and interceptions, alongside the second-fewest hurries, harries, and sacks recorded. It's deeply disappointing stuff for Fins' fans, and you start to think that misplaced overconfidence might be the only stumbling block for a recovering Rudolph.
Road warrior Fitzpatrick to suffer another blowout
On the other side of the ball, it will be up to Ryan Fitzpatrick to rally his troops under center and keep pace with his opposing QB. Fitzpatrick enjoys cult classic status among a loyal if niche following, and the veteran (12 years Rudolph's senior) can still make it look easy with some creative calls and deep downfield strikes. Just witness his last outing where he compiled 282 yards, with a levels-your-devils touchdown-to-interception strike rate. Fitzpatrick is middle-of-the-road box office, always has been. So, the Dolphins definitely have a shot with him at the reins.
That said, the wider stats look more ominous. That pick against the Bills was Fitzpatrick's fifth in as many starts; while, more broadly, the Dolphins have combined for 13 turnovers already this season. Add to that the glaring fact that the Pittsburgh D excel in this category (a whopping 15 takeaways this year) and the Fins' fate couldn't be in more precarious hands. The Steelers' pass rush charts fifth in the NFL (20 sacks), while Miami have struggled to shield their signal-caller with pass protection with 24 sacks allowed (24 sacks allowed, only three sides have fared worse so far).
So, with the Steelers an impressive 4-2 against the spread ATS this season, Miami will struggle to stem the tide, stop the rot and break their duck for the current campaign. Heinz Field in the Fall remains an intimidating road trip for the sun-drenched Floridians.
Whisper it, but Pittsburgh, who now enjoy a run of three home games, could even creep back into postseason contention in the after-you-Claude show more commonly referred to as the AFC North, if they can build up a head of steam behind the Baltimore Ravens. You can certainly stick a fork in Cleveland and Cincinnati. They're done.
More immediately, though, Rudolph should chose discretion as the better part of valour tonight. Simply minimising the mistakes could be enough. While the Steelers of yesterday aired it out, this 2019 outfit needs to incorporate a run-first, grind-it-out facility. Only then, behind a bulwark line, will Rudolph evolve and thrive.