Steelers Beat Writer

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

Ben Roethlisberger has missed some time here and there, for a number of reasons, throughout his 16-year NFL career. Counting the first two games of his career – when he was the backup to Tommy Maddox – Roethlisberger has missed 27 starts.

The Steelers’ record in those games? A better-than-average 16-11, which works out to a .592 winning percentage.

That’s not quite as good as the .665 winning percentage they have posted in games in which Roethlisberger has started, but it’s not bad, either.

That’s a big reason the Steelers aren’t packing it in on this season as some fans seem to be doing.

The team and coaching staff believe in second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph. They like his demeanor. They like his ability. They like his intangibles.

Rudolph, who will be the Steelers’ starter the rest of this season, put all of those things on display in the second half last week against the Seattle Seahawks when he completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

The Steelers still feel strongly about their ability to be a very good team, even without Roethlisberger.

The front office showed that when it made a trade with Miami for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, sending a first-round draft pick to the Dolphins along with some other picks.

If the Steelers thought they were going to be picking in the top 10 next year, then they wouldn’t have necessarily made that trade. After all, Pittsburgh hasn’t traded its first-round pick for a veteran player since 1967.

The Steelers believe they’re a contender in the AFC. And they’ll make moves accordingly. And their belief in Rudolph is a big part of that.

  • The trade for Fitzpatrick is different than the trades the Steelers used to make back in the 1960s. Back in those days, the team would trade its first-round pick for veteran players because head coach Buddy Parker hated rookies. So, he would trade draft picks for veteran players, sometimes ones whose careers were pretty much over.

In this case, the Steelers are getting a 22-year-old defensive back whom they had a top-5 grade on in last year’s draft. And they have him for four years at a very reasonable price. Because Miami, which selected Fitzpatrick 11th overall last season, paid his signing bonus, the Steelers will pay Fitzpatrick only $5.7 million over the next three years and then have an option year for 2022.

And they’ve already gotten to see 18 games of Fitzpatrick playing football in the NFL to know that he can play at this level.

There will not be a defensive back in next year’s draft the Steelers will like more than Fitzpatrick.

  • As an added bonus, the Steelers don’t have to pay a free-agent safety, or re-sign Sean Davis, in 2020. They have Fitzpatrick under contract at a very reasonable $1.97 million.

That money can now be spent on nose tackle Javon Hargrave or signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster or running back James Conner to new contracts. Hargrave will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and Smith-Schuster and Conner will be heading into the final seasons of their contracts.

  • The interesting thing for the Steelers will be what to do in 2020 if Rudolph plays well. Roethlisberger has already said he intends to return from his elbow injury. And the Steelers feel very good about the potential for that to happen.

But what happens if Rudolph plays well? Could the Steelers move on from Roethlisberger? Well, Joe Montana and Brett Favre finished their careers with different teams. So, you never want to say never.

  • The New England Patriots are being lauded by some for releasing Antonio Brown in light of a new spate of sexual assault/harassment allegations against him. In reality, the honorable thing would have been to not sign him to begin with.

The Patriots did what any employer would have done in that same situation.

This week’s picks

Steelers (plus 6½) against San Francisco: The 49ers are 2-0. The Steelers are 0-2 and have a quarterback making his first career start. The Steelers’ record in games in which they have a first-time starter is 4-19-1. That’s not good. But their West Coast troubles (19-39 all-time) haven’t carried over to San Francisco, where they are 5-5 all-time. This is a tough spot, though. The 49ers have some pretty big injuries, most notably at left tackle, where rookie Jeff Skule will start in place of Joe Staley, who’s out with a broken leg. That will allow the Steelers to keep it close. Take the Steelers to cover in a 23-20 loss.

L.A. Rams (minus 3½) at Cleveland: Cleveland’s entire starting secondary is on the injury report. That’s not a good look heading into a game against the Rams, who have perhaps the NFL’s most dynamic passing game. And how are the Browns blocking Aaron Donald? Take the Rams, 27-17

Baltimore (plus 6) against Kansas City: Two of the league’s highest-scoring offenses get together in a battle of unbeatens. Whil the Chiefs should win, the Ravens should generate enough offense to keep it reasonably close. Take the Ravens to cover in a 31-27 loss

New England (minus 22) over N.Y. Jets: You know there are some bad teams in the NFL when the Jets are 22-point underdogs and they aren’t even the biggest dogs of the weekend. That would be Miami, a 24½-point underdog at Dallas this week. And the Dolphins might get to 30-point underdogs at some point this season. But the Jets aren’t going to score in this game against a Patriots defense that has allowed six points in its past three games, including last year’s Super Bowl. Take the Patriots, 38-0

Last Week: 4-1. Overall: 7-3

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

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