A final look at Mason Rudolph’s and Dwayne Haskins’ preseason performances

This offseason was a fun one for Steelers Nation. Fans, aided by media desperate for clicks and quotas, created a backup quarterback controversy where there likely never was one.

Everywhere you turned, the talk was about Mason Rudolph versus Dwayne Haskins.

I’m sorry to report that the versus was something that is yet to be determined, perhaps as soon as next season – should Ben Roethlisberger decide to walk away for 2022.

Regardless, it was fun to analyze each of the quarterbacks and see their potential. This article isn’t a “he’s better, he’s worse” type. Instead, I pulled all of the statistics for both Rudolph and Haskins, so fans could get a better visual as to how each passer has potential to perhaps be the next signal caller in Pittsburgh.

With an extra preseason game this year, the Steelers had four opportunities to showcase their QBs. Here’s how each performed.

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Mason Rudolph

There’s an old saying that goes like this: everyone loves a backup quarterback until they have to play.

Nothing could be further from the truth with Rudolph, who many fans still hold a grudge against for being thrust into action when Ben Roethlisberger was injured in 2019.

Even then, Rudolph’s statistics weren’t terrible (and compare favorably to those of Haskins in starting duty with Washington too.)

The same was true this preseason with the exception of Rudolph being unable to orchestrate a touchdown on any of his drives. As the main criticism, I find this one flimsy, as scoring touchdowns on every drive is difficult for any NFL quarterback – with opportunity being the chief reason as to why Rudolph didn’t get in the endzone.

Week Plays Yards Time Result
H 6 23 3:16 Fumble
H 6 30 3:13 Punt
H 7 49 2:50 Missed FG
1 7 41 4:43 Punt
1 5 44 3:50 Punt
1 3 -2 2:10 Punt
2 10 55 5:41 Field Goal
2 14 76 5:38 Field Goal
2 10 42 5:25 Field Goal

Mason otherwise sustained some solid drives, but with only nine total series of play, there wasn’t much to show for – including a missed field by since released Sam Sloman and a dropped would-be touchdown by JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Rudolph had to settle for field goals on all of his Week 2 drives, with his Week 1 being marred by penalties and then an ugly sack – most of which wasn’t attributed as his fault. (The lack of finding success in Week 2 is a far better criticism.)

The first drive in the Hall of Fame game also sticks out, with a bad exchange between Rudolph and Chase Claypool leading to a lost fumble.

Overall, Rudolph still put up respectable numbers throughout the three games he played.

Mason Rudolph
ATT/CMP 27/36
CMP% 75.00%
YDS 299
TD:INT 0:00
Y/A 8.3

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Dwayne Haskins

The former first round pick from college powerhouse Ohio State arrived in Pittsburgh earlier this year after a falling out with the team which drafted him 15th overall in 2018, the Washington Football Team.

Criticisms of Haskins fell on “not having a good offense” and many were curious what he might do with the compliment of weapons the Steelers had. Coach Mike Tomlin also called him “checkdown”, alluding to Haskins propensity to go through his reads and then settle for a short outlet pass to a tight end or running back.

Week Plays Yards Time Result
H 5 16 2:14 Punt
H 1 -1 0:01 End of Half
H 5 33 2:07 Touchdown
H 9 24 4:36 Field Goal
H 5 18 2:20 Punt
1 3 3 1:40 Punt
1 9 65 4:13 Touchdown
1 1 -1 0:13 End of Half
1 10 60 5:28 Touchdown
1 11 50 5:45 Touchdown
1 14 76 5:33 Field Goal
2 12 51 5:34 Field Goal
2 5 23 1:53 End of Game
3 3 5 1:30 Punt
3 3 5 1:41 Punt
3 1 0 0:05 Interception
3 5 17 2:43 Punt
3 6 29 2:55 Punt
3 1 4 0:24 End of Half
3 3 9 1:28 Punt
3 2 15 0:40 Fumble
3 6 75 2:25 Touchdown

However, Haskins also showed prowess and leadership flashes throughout the preseason. His hard count against the Eagles led to a free play and a bust coverage touchdown pass to Anthony Johnson – one of Haskins’ longest completions of the exhibition games.

Despite critics claiming short fields or inadequate opposition, the quarterback took advantage of those situations as you’d expect an NFL passer to do. Yet, Haskins wasn’t immune to the non-scoring bug that plagued Rudolph, as his start in Week 3 would lead to nine drives, with only one of those ending in a score.

Regardless, Haskins was still as impressive as anyone might want from the third quarterback coming off of the bench – and provides nice upside for the Steelers in the future.

Dwayne Haskins
ATT/CMP 37/58
CMP% 63.80%
YDS 379
TD:INT 2:01
Y/A 6.5

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Final Thoughts

Proponents for Dwayne Haskins should level off some expectations from the Steelers backup, as his best showings came later in preseason games against sub-optimal competition. When called upon in the final preseason game against Carolina, against many Panthers starters, Haskins was tasked to potentially win the backup job.

One of the critiques had been Haskins “not playing with the starters”, though his first drives consisted of starters Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron and most of the Steelers projected starting offensive line. Without RB Najee Harris, and RB Benny Snell in his place, the onus was placed squarely on the former OSU quarterback to shine.

Unfortunately, the game did more harm to what was a great outlook on his preseason.

Mason Rudolph was sidelined entirely – perhaps to better evaluate Haskins and/or give him more reps with his new team. Therefore, we couldn’t evaluate how Rudolph may have played against the Panthers: and whether or not he would’ve gotten over the touchdown drought.

Overall, Haskins led 22 offensive possessions to Rudolph’s 9 through the four preseason games played. Four of Haskins drives could be tossed out – end of half/game situations taking a knee or running out the game clock. Each quarterback had one drive end with a fumble.

That leaves Haskins with 18 drives to evaluate to Rudolph’s 9.

Haskins would have 8 drives end in a punt to Rudolph’s 4 – so each player roughly had half of their drives end without a score. (Note: Haskins had an interception and Rudolph had the missed field goal also. Each would also have fumbles once on their drives.)

Rudolph would lead three series to field goals converted, equal to Haskins, who would also add five touchdown drives. Two of those drives ended with touchdown passes, including the aforementioned Johnson TD, and the final Steelers preseason drive capped off by Ray-Ray McCloud in Carolina.

Both quarterbacks have their strengths and shortcomings, but overall, the Steelers have a nice situation behind Ben Roethlisberger that many NFL teams would be envious of. The future appears to be bright for both players, but as of now, we can hopefully put a rest to the “position battle” behind Big Ben and focus on the future Hall of Famer taking the reigns in the regular season – following a perfect passer rating in his only exhibition action!

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