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What Steelers’ offense looks like with ‘mad man’ QB Mason Rudolph – Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

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PITTSBURGH — As guard Ramon Foster walked out of the locker room after a second-straight loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was asked about quarterback Mason Rudolph taking over the offense if Ben Roethlisberger‘s elbow injury keeps him sidelined.

His answer was blunt: Rudolph prepares like a mad man.

“He wants this,” Foster added.

On Monday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that Roethlisberger will have surgery on his elbow and be out the remainder of the season.

The Steelers are sold on Rudolph for one prime reason: He grinds. They aren’t worried about his preparation if he makes the start Sunday at San Francisco, which is crucial to avoid dropping to 0-3 and dwelling at the bottom of the AFC North.

No matter the results, they know he’ll be ready for everything on the field. This is the same guy who wears his helmet on the sideline as the backup or used to mimic practice plays from the sideline as the third-stringer last season.

In Rudolph’s NFL debut, he completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (not his fault coming off a Donte Moncrief drop) for a 92.5 passer rating. But guard David DeCastro cared less about the numbers and more about the command as Rudolph was mixing signals at the line of scrimmage.

“We like our chances,” DeCastro said. “He’s a guy who cares a lot. That means a lot in this league.”

Here’s what to expect with Rudolph at the helm for the Steelers’ offense.

Confidence to “let it fly,” which is mostly good …

Rudolph said in the preseason, that in Year 2, he would hold nothing back, which eventually helped him beat Josh Dobbs for the No. 2 job. Rudolph delivered two touchdown strikes to Vance McDonald, who broke free for seven catches Sunday. Those were confidence throws.

Rudolph also isn’t afraid to hold the ball in the pocket as routes develop or make intermediate-to-deep throws to tough spots.

“I am completely confident in myself, being a leader of a team, and playing games,” Rudolph said. “That’s what it all comes down to. If that’s the case, I’m ready to roll.”

But Rudolph has to make sure the timing is down on those tough throws. Rudolph said he needed to get the ball earlier to Diontae Johnson on a 17-yard sideline catch that required an acrobatic play to complete. On his interception on the two-point conversion attempt, Rudolph said surging defensive backs affected his vision.

These are good plays to experience entering a potential first start.

“He is going to throw the ball and make his reads,” McDonald said. “I think he is very deliberate about that and that is something we can look forward to on offense.”

More run-pass balance

The Steelers aren’t a heavy play-action team, but Roethlisberger is most comfortable in the no-huddle offense and can use the short passing game to simulate runs. That helps explain his league-high 675 passing attempts a year ago.

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Mason Rudolph enters the game for the injured Ben Roethlisberger and hits JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 45-yard flea-flicker pass.

The Steelers should support Rudolph with a stout running game to help set up the pass. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 39 rushing yards on seven carries (5.6 yards per carry) in the second half. That lessened the burden on Rudolph, who feels comfortable in play-action sets.

McDonald said the offensive line will set a tone in Week 3 and beyond, regardless of who’s at quarterback.

“We rely on our big men up front to not only lead us but take charge as leaders of this team,” McDonald said. “Just carrying us from week-to-week. Even with Ben up, they are our guys. We’ll rely heavily on them.”

DeCastro is up to the challenge.

“We’ll see what this team’s made of,” he said. “I don’t expect any drama. I expect guys to shut up and go to work.”

Creativity in the game plan

A 45-yard flea flicker to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the third quarter eased the tension for Rudolph and the offense, and everyone played loosely after that.

Surely offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has some trickeration he hasn’t used for a while. This might free him up to try some stuff.

And what helps Rudolph, college and NFL teammate James Washington says, is making extra time to throw with receivers during and after practices. There’s not one pass-catcher in the offense that Rudolph doesn’t know well, tendency-wise.

“He’s got a lot of weapons to play with,” Washington said.

Make an imprint for the future

Rudolph now gets almost a full season to audition and, for the Steelers, this is his chance to inject clarity into the post-Roethlisberger succession plan. Roethlisberger is 37 and plans to play out the three years remaining on his deal, but the Steelers saw Rudolph as a first-round-caliber prospect in 2018.

“The reps in practice might change, but my [diligent] approach won’t change,” Rudolph said about how he prepares for this week.

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Patrick Mahomes dominoes – Barnwell on the Chiefs’ options, AFC playoff picture

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Thursday night saw just about every NFL fan’s worst nightmare come true. Patrick Mahomes dislocated his right kneecap on a first-half sneak during Kansas City’s win over Denver. The injury is expected to keep Mahomes out for at least three games after an MRI showed no additional damage, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday. Mahomes was replaced by backup quarterback Matt Moore on Thursday night.

It’s a crushing blow to a 5-2 Chiefs team expected to compete for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a trip to the Super Bowl. Their path to those goals is now murkier. Even if you’re a fan of a rival team, Mahomes is unadulterated football joy. It’s awful to see that taken away.

Everyone loses, at least on some level, with Mahomes sidelined. You don’t need me to tell you that the Chiefs are a drastically different team without their star passer. In taking a step back and trying to look at the big picture, I’d like to get a sense of what might happen next and how the 2019 season might shift after the Mahomes injury. Let’s start with the Chiefs and work our way out:


The Chiefs will move forward, at least at first, with Moore

If you’re a Chiefs fan looking for some vestige of hope, let me start with this: Moore has generally been an underrated quarterback during his time in the NFL. He was basically a league-average player on a middling Dolphins team in 2011, only for ownership to push for a more exciting option the following offseason to help sell tickets, which led the franchise to draft Ryan Tannehill. Moore then spent four years on the bench, but when he came back in for an injured Tannehill in 2016 and then Jay Cutler in 2017, he was again generally a competent quarterback, with one bad start against the Ravens as an exception. With better luck, Moore might have had a few seasons as a viable starter. That’s not Mahomes, but it’s better than most teams have waiting in the wings.

It’s fair to note that Moore is 35 and was starting to work as a scout for the Dolphins before the Chiefs signed him in August as a replacement for the injured Chad Henne. I’d also make the case that Moore didn’t get to spend his career playing under Andy Reid, who has made backups like A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb look like viable starters while coaxing career seasons out of Alex Smith and Michael Vick.

Moore looked bad for most of his debut Thursday night, which isn’t necessarily surprising. He likely hasn’t had any reps with the first-team offense. Research I’ve done in the past suggests that backups tend to play better when they start a game from the beginning (and presumably have had some practice time with the first team) as opposed to coming in off the bench, which usually results in about a 10% penalty in terms of effectiveness. Moore didn’t throw at all during the 2019 preseason and sat out the 2018 campaign, so he hadn’t thrown a competitive pass since November 2017.

If any quarterback was going to come off the bench and take over a job, it’s difficult to imagine a friendlier situation than the one Moore inherits. The Chiefs have arguably the most creative offensive mind in the league with Reid. I ranked Kansas City’s weapons as the second best in the NFL before the season, and that was before they acquired LeSean McCoy, who has added depth to their running back room. Sammy Watkins is dealing with a hamstring injury, but when you start your receiving corps with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, it’s going to make your quarterback’s life easier.

Of course, Moore might be toast. Losing your starting quarterback also doesn’t just mean that you’re down to your second-string passer; it means that you’re one hit away from relying on your third-string quarterback. While I recognize that the Steelers just won a game with Devlin Hodges, nobody hoping to compete for a playoff spot wants to rely on their third-stringer. The Chiefs can hope to get by with Moore for the weeks while Mahomes is missing, but that’s a dangerous game to play, to which the Steelers can attest.

The Chiefs have undrafted rookie Kyle Shurmur — yes, the son of Giants coach Pat Shurmur — on their practice squad. They probably don’t want to be one moment away from turning things over to Shurmur for any length of time. With that in mind …

They should look into adding a veteran quarterback

There are actually quite a few veteran options the Chiefs could plausibly consider acquiring via trade. They have a full complement of 2020 draft picks minus a fifth-round selection, which went to the Jets for Darron Lee. They’ll send the Seahawks a second-round pick for Frank Clark, but they’re due a second-rounder from the 49ers as part of the Dee Ford trade. Both picks appear likely to come in the bottom of the round.

Whom could the Chiefs target? The short list starts with a familiar face:

Nick Foles. Reid drafted Foles in Philadelphia, and the former Super Bowl MVP credited Reid with saving his career after his disastrous stint with the Rams. The 30-year-old never really got started in Jacksonville, as Foles went down with a broken collarbone after two drives in Week 1. Gardner Minshew has won hearts and minds since taking over the starting job, and it’s unclear whether the Jaguars will hand the job back to Foles when he returns from injured reserve. It’s easy to put two and two together here.

Foles is a great football fit, but the timeline doesn’t make sense here. If his initial timeline was accurate, he won’t be back until Week 11. The Chiefs likely expect to get Mahomes back at or around that time, at which point they could move forward with Mahomes as their starter and Moore as the backup. They realistically need a quarterback who can at least step in on an emergency basis for Moore now. Foles also doesn’t make financial sense, given that he has $20.1 million in practical guarantees coming due next season.

Marcus Mariota. Timing is everything! The Titans benched their longtime starter for Tannehill this week in the hopes of sparking an offense that has scored one touchdown in its past five halves of football. Mariota has produced a pair of impressive performances against the Browns and Falcons this season, and he has thrown only two interceptions on 159 pass attempts, but the hyperconservative Mariota has averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt in four Tennessee losses.

Mariota is in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, and as the former second overall pick, it’s a significant chunk of change. The Titans owe him $13.5 million in prorated guaranteed salary over the remainder of the season, all of which would come off the books if he were traded to another team. That’s too much to pay, given that Mahomes could be back in a month.

The Titans organization might not love the optics of trading a guy who had been considered a franchise cornerstone for a late-round pick. The good news, at least relative to Foles’ deal, is that Mariota is in the final year of his contract.

The Titans also likely still fancy themselves as contenders in the AFC South, and if they do, they probably don’t want to rule out the chances of Mariota playing again this season. Tannehill hasn’t completed a full 16-game season since 2015. He’s hardly a sure thing to start all 10 of Tennessee’s remaining games. Tennessee didn’t frame Mariota’s benching as a permanent decision, and if Tannehill struggles, I suspect the Titans would want the option of turning back to Mariota. If coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson have decided that they’re truly done with Mariota, it’s only then that I would figure a Mariota trade makes sense.

Andy Dalton. The Bengals are 0-6 and going nowhere. Playing behind a porous, injury-riddled offensive line and without star receiver A.J. Green, the 31-year-old Dalton is having his worst season since 2011 by both passer rating and adjusted yards per attempt. Dalton has $10.4 million in prorated base salary remaining in 2019 and $17.5 million in unguaranteed salary waiting in 2020, the final year of his extension.

The Bengals will presumably pursue a quarterback with their 2020 first-round pick, which would likely bring an end to Dalton’s tenure in Cincinnati. They also moved up in the fourth round this year to draft Ryan Finley, so it would make sense for the Bengals to move on from Dalton and evaluate Finley over the rest of the 2019 season, albeit behind a compromised offensive line.

I can’t see the Chiefs wanting to spend that much money for a quarterback who might not be that much better over the next few weeks than Moore, given that the latter already knows the playbook. The Bengals typically don’t sell veterans during losing seasons and have publicly disavowed any interest in trading Green, so I wonder if they would be inclined to move on from Dalton.



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Cardinals GM Steve Keim says Patrick Peterson not going anywhere

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim tried to set the record straight Friday morning about the possibility of the team trading cornerback Patrick Peterson.

“I don’t know why the questions persist because I have addressed it multiple times: We are not trading Patrick Peterson,” Keim said during his weekly appearance on KMVP 98.7 FM in Phoenix. “Our stance has simply been: ‘Why trade a player in his prime at one of the hardest positions to find for a maybe or a couple maybes?’ Love what Pat brings to the locker room, love what he brings to the field.

“Those positions are impossible to find: left tackles, quarterbacks, corners. There’s no doubt, in my opinion, he is the best in the National Football League and will remain a Cardinal.”

Peterson returned Monday from a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy,

Speculation that he may be moved before the NFL trade deadline on Oct. 29 heated up again Sunday when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that at least three teams called the Cardinals about a potential trade for him.

Peterson requested a trade on Oct. 22, 2018, amid the Cardinals’ 3-13 season. He walked back his request two days later and then apologized for it while playing the pro-am at the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open in January.

Peterson wouldn’t specifically address the new trade rumors when he talked to the media Wednesday for the first time since returning from his suspension.

“I’m here,” Peterson said. “I have a contract with the Cardinals for these 10 games and next season. Whatever happens after that, that’s pretty much out of my control. I’m here preparing for the Giants and preparing for the other nine games that we have on the schedule.

“I’m just happy to be back to help my guys get better. We have a lot of football left. October is the meat of the season and I’m focusing on that right now. It should be a great 10-game season for me. I’m planning on this being the best 10 games I’ve played in my career.”

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Saints rule out Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook vs. Bears

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METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints‘ four-game win streak will be put to a serious test Sunday at Chicago. The team has ruled out running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook because of injuries.

Kamara (ankle, knee) and Cook (ankle) rank second and third on the team in passing targets behind wide receiver Michael Thomas and are tied for second with two touchdowns apiece. But neither practiced this week after being injured during Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.

Replacing Kamara will be veteran backup Latavius Murray, who was a No. 1 back in both Oakland and Minnesota. Veteran tight end Josh Hill will be among those filling in for Cook.

Kamara, who leads the Saints with 649 yards from scrimmage, first showed up on the injury report on Oct. 10 with an ankle injury. But he played through it before also “tweaking” his knee early against the Jaguars, according to coach Sean Payton.

The running back finished the game but was still feeling the effects this week.

Payton was asked if things like the Saints’ winning streak and 5-1 record ever factor into decisions about whether to rest injured players. The coach said that’s not the case here.

“I’m asked this a lot,” Payton said. “[But] we take the medical, the science relative to the player being ready to play or not. And we don’t factor in, ‘Well, we have a bye, or we have [other circumstances].’ It’s, ‘Is the player healthy to play?’ And if he is, then we’ll play him. And if he’s not, then we won’t.

“I think the exceptions to that might be when you get into the postseason. But I think you really try to pay attention to where the player is relative to his recovery and his injury and being smart.”

The Saints signed Murray to a four-year, $14.4 million contract in free agency to both complement Kamara and be available for situations like this.

Murray, 29, has 3,836 career rushing yards, 950 career receiving yards and 35 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl with the Raiders with 1,066 rushing yards in 2015, then ran for a total of 1,420 yards over the past two years while splitting time in the Vikings’ backfield.

“Look, he’s a real good football player. And we knew when we signed him there was a vision and a role,” Payton said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder. “He runs zone schemes well. He’s smart. He knows how to block the pressure and handle some of the third-down situations.”

Murray has not played a substantial role with the Saints yet, with 32 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown, plus nine receptions for 67 yards. But his touches have steadily increased each week. He had his best performance to date at Jacksonville last week; it would have looked even better if his 42-yard touchdown catch had not been nullified by a questionable holding penalty.

“I’ve been feeling good since Week 1, but I just think it’s one of those things where the more I’m in this offense, every day in practice, the more comfortable I’m definitely gonna be,” said Murray, who ran eight times for 44 yards and caught three passes for 35 yards last week. “For sure, being in this offense and continuing to get the reps has definitely helped.”

Cook, who also joined the Saints this year in free agency, will be missed at a time when he was finally starting to find a groove. Over the past two weeks, he caught a total of seven passes for 78 yards with his first two touchdowns of the season.

The Saints ruled out quarterback Drew Brees for the fifth straight game with his thumb injury — though he is on the mend after starting to throw a regulation-sized football again last week. They also ruled out wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (ankle) and defensive end Trey Hendrickson (neck).

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