Before we get into reactions to Sunday's game, we'd be remiss if we did not pay respects to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph who, as two Ravens defenders caught him between them, was knocked out and lay on the field. It was a moment that stole all the air out of the lungs of Steelers Nation, both at Heinz Field and watching around the world.
Thankfully, medical staff were able to assist the young signal-caller, removing the facemask from his helmet, and eventually, get him to his feet and assist him off of the field. The play was brutal to witness and all eyes were on Rudolph as he hit the turf after he was hit in the chin by the helmet of safety Earl Thomas while completing a long pass to James Washington for a third-down conversion and went limp, unconscious. Steel City Underground wishes nothing but the best for Rudolph as he is further evaluated.
With his teammates rallying around Rudolph, with emotions clearly on the sleeves of every member of the Steelers team, things looked like they'd be fine when undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges was asked to enter the game and lead the offense.
Offensively, Pittsburgh was asked to do some silly things when opening the game. While the 'Wildcat' worked last week, it wasn't nearly as easy to fool the Baltimore Ravens whose defense is a more talented group than what the Cincinnati Bengals fielded in Week 4. Jaylen Samuels, asked to once again try to run a play, was the unfortunate victim of poor play-calling, a bad throw, and Washington not being ready to make the catch. The subsequent interception allowed the Ravens to go up 10-0 on the Steelers early.
Any thoughts about the lack of ability for Rudolph to throw downfield should be put to bed after what was a fantastic outing by the young quarterback before he was literally knocked out of the game. Once Randy Fichtner realized that getting cute was not going to work against Baltimore, Rudolph was able to not only mix in runs with James Conner and Samuels but find JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald for touchdowns and spread the ball to Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, and Nick Vannett. As Joe wrote prior to the game, Rudolph was asked to manage the offense responsibly, rather than try to hit deep route after deep route. Utilizing a mix of passes - short and long - the Steelers were able to march down the field, move the chains, and limit potential interceptions. Rudolph's play was solid and kept Pittsburgh in the game.
Hodges actually had a serviceable outing. He completed all but two passes that he attempted and wasn't afraid to use his legs when the Ravens defense played soft man and gave him room to scamper. Some may blame Hodges for the fumble following a pass to Smith-Schuster that was knocked loose by Marlon Humphrey in the field of play because he didn't fall on the ball. With the person backing him up being Samuels, though, hesitating to grab the ball and opting to block the defender next to him on the turf who was reaching for it may have been a bit of an instant reactionary response. I don't fault him for not being more aggressive, even if it did turn the tide during the overtime period.
The Steelers defense was hampered by three ticky-tacky neutral zone infractions (or, as our own Brian Roach would say, 'the refs stink'), but still managed to dial up another week of healthy pressure. They finished the game with five sacks on Lamar Jackson and made adjustments as areas were exposed. After Mark Barron left the game due to injury, it was apparent that the Steelers defense was assisted by a healthy Vince Williams.
T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt... they all played a strong game along the line of scrimmage. Devin Bush and Mike Hilton both came away with interceptions. The defense can still use fine-tuning but looked like things were clicking on Sunday.
Suffering the loss of Rudolph was heartbreaking, but so was the overtime loss at the expense of a field goal by Justin Tucker. The Steelers could have used a break but they didn't get it. And as they look at a 1-4 record through five weeks of play, they're going to have to go back to the chalkboard and take a hard look at their future this season.