Veteran Mason Rudolph has been waiting more than two years for another chance to make an NFL start. His opportunity will come in Week 16.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin named Rudolph the team’s starting quarterback for the December 23 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s our intention as we sit here today to give Mason Rudolph an opportunity to start,” Tomlin told reporters at his press conference on December 18. “He’s a veteran guy. He’s a backup, but he’s also a veteran guy, he’s been in our program for a longtime, he’s here for those reasons. We’ve got a great deal of comfort with him.”
While announcing the quarterback change, Tomlin answered the obvious follow-up question.
“Why are we making the change? Man, we don’t like what we’re looking at and the consistency of it. What I mean is, we’re not scoring enough points.”
The Steelers averaged 15.5 points per game in Trubisky’s two starts the past two weeks. Both games were losses to the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.
Rudolph made his last NFL start in Week 10 during the 2021 season. He replaced Mitch Trubisky for Pittsburgh’s final offensive drive in Week 15.
That was the first time Rudolph had taken a snap in a regular season game since December 26, 2021.
Mike Tomlin Names Mason Rudolph Steelers Starting QB
The Steelers have featured a poor offense for the entire season even with regular starter Kenny Pickett behind center. But things got dramatically worse for Pittsburgh with Trubisky.
The past two games, Trubisky has posted a 65.5% completion percentage and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. He’s also had 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions with 2 rushing touchdowns.
Rudolph doesn’t have starting statistics that are much better. In 10 career NFL starts, Rudolph owns a 60.7% completion percentage and a 6.3 yards per pass average. He also has 13 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions.
But with the season on the brink, Tomlin is searching for an offensive spark. He’s already fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Changing the quarterback is the last significant move Tomlin can make.
“You’ve got to score more than 12, 14, 16 points in games this time of year. You better assume that others are doing the same,” Tomlin told reporters. “The engineering of victory is not going to be fluid if you’re not doing those things, and obviously, by nature of the position, the guy who has the ball, the quarterback position, man, that’s a catalyst for change, an opportunity, so we’re going to give [Rudolph] some snaps.”
Tomlin stressed that he didn’t want to blame Trubisky for all of the offense’s problems the past two weeks. But Tomlin admitted quarterbacks are “at the controls” and “have a big say in how some things unfold.”
“And it’s more about, really Mason Rudolph being deserving of an opportunity and us trying to change the trajectory of what’s been transpiring,” added the head coach.
Rudolph is 5-4-1 as an NFL starter. During his last start, he completed 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and interception in a tie against the Detroit Lions.
Tomlin Provides QB Kenny Pickett Injury Update
While Tomlin named Rudolph the Steelers’ starting quarterback in Week 16, there’s one caveat. Rudolph will start if Pickett can’t play.
Immediately after making Rudolph the starter, Tomlin gave an update on Pickett’s rehab progress and didn’t rule him out for Week 16.
“[Pickett] had a really good rehab today. His availability is not out of question this week,” Tomlin said. “But at the front part of the week, our attention and emphasis will be on Mason Rudolph, and we’ll leave the door ajar and see how Kenny responds to the work that he did today, the limited work that we’re probably going to give him tomorrow.
“But as I stand here today, Mason Rudolph is the guy with the ball. We’re going to support him and ready him.”
Pickett had ankle surgery on December 4 after sustaining an injury to his right ankle against the Arizona Cardinals. The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reported following his surgery that Pickett would miss 2-4 weeks.
The December 23 matchup against the Bengals will be two weeks and five days after Pickett’s surgery.