Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

Was it the game plan or the quarterback? That was the question after Mason Rudolph threw for only 40 yards on 15 pass attempts in the first half of the Steelers’ 24-20 loss last Sunday at San Francisco.

Perhaps it was a little bit of both.

The Steelers wanted to get first-time starter Mason Rudolph some easy completions early in that game. That’s understandable.

But when the 49ers started turning the ball over like it was a grenade, giving it to the Steelers four times in the first half and five in the game, the game plan should have changed, at least a little.

There’s no better time to go for the end zone than after a quick change of possession. That’s especially true when the turnovers occur deep in the opponent’s territory, which happened twice in that first half.

Instead, the Steelers settled for two field goals and a 6-3 halftime lead. The 49ers had to consider that a win. And they took control of the game in the second half when they quit handing the ball to the Steelers.

Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner pulled no punches when it came to assessing blame for that.

“We had some opportunities for some throws and even for some shots. If you don’t connect or throw them, it never materializes,” Fichtner said.

“We were able to go down the field early. You’ve got to throw them. You’ve got to attempt to throw it there.”

Fichtner’s point was clear. Rudolph needs to let the ball fly.

Rudolph didn’t disagree.

“Yeah, for sure. Opportunities in the first quarter, really in the first couple of drives, that I could have been a little more aggressive towards,” Rudolph said. “Learning experiences. I’m an aggressive person. That’s who I’ve always been at the quarterback position. A little unlike me, but mistakes you always look forward to cleaning up, and I think we have already this week in practice.”

He’d better get through those learning experiences quickly. At 0-3, the Steelers can’t afford to squander many more opportunities like the one last week.

When the other team gives you the ball five times, as the 49ers did, you should win the game. At least you’d better.

  • Ben Roethlisberger took undeserved heat from some fans because he wasn’t in San Francisco last weekend for Rudolph’s first start.

Roethlisberger was a little busy getting surgery the next morning in Los Angeles on his elbow. That’s a little more involved than just showing up and getting a checkup.

That surgery went well, and Roethlisberger is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the start of next season.

And the day after he returned to Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger was at the Steelers’ first practice of the week as they prepared to face the Bengals.

So, for those ripping him for not being in San Francisco, lighten up.

  • By this time next week, the Pirates could be in the middle of a search for a new manager, general manager and even team president. Given how badly this season went, culminating with the arrest of star closer Felipe Vazquez, nothing should be off the table.
  • The new pass interference review rules have quickly become a joke in the NFL. Nobody, including the officials, know what isn’t and isn’t pass interference any longer. At this point, it’s whatever NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron says it is. And that hasn’t been consistent at all.

The bigger, and perhaps more salient point, is that Riveron has too much control over games as the judge of all reviews. And he hasn’t handled that role well.

This week’s picks

Steelers (minus 3½) over Bengals: It’s hard to believe the Steelers are only 3½-point favorites at home over a team they’ve beaten eight consecutive times. That’s especially true for a Monday night game at home. The Steelers are 25-5 at home on Monday nights. The Steelers should get their running game going in this one. The Bengals have allowed 408 rushing yards on 78 carries with four touchdowns to opposing running backs in their first three games. James Conner should have a breakout game after his critical fumble a week ago. Take the Steelers 24-17.

Baltimore (minus 7) over Cleveland: The Ravens weren’t nearly as close to beating the Chiefs last week as the 33-28 final score would indicate, but they’re still playing better than the Browns. Cleveland can’t protect Baker Mayfield and the defense is soft on the back end. The Ravens will take advantage of that. Take the Ravens, 27-17.

Minnesota (plus 1½) at Chicago: This should be a defensive struggle, as both teams are stout on that side of the ball. With that in mind, take the team with the better offense. That’s the Vikings and running back Dalvin Cook, who’s topped 100 rushing yards in each of the first three weeks. Take the Vikings to win outright, 20-16.

Dallas (minus 3) at New Orleans: The Cowboys beat the Saints, 13-10, last season in Dallas. And that was with Drew Brees at quarterback. The Saints won last week against Seattle, but Teddy Bridgewater didn’t play particularly well. The Cowboys are 3-0 on the strength of a soft schedule. They get a chance to show they can step up in class. Take the Cowboys, 27-20.

Houston (minus 4) over Carolina: The Texans are like the light version of the Chiefs. They can score, but the defense is suspect. But the suspicion here is that they’ll do enough to confound young quarterback Kyle Allen. Take Houston, 31-24.

Last Week: 3-1 Overall: 10-4

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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