Ben Roethlisberger defends Mason Rudolph's performance, explains motivation behind his comeback

Mason Rudolph completed 85.7 percent of his passes in his first career start at Heinz Field, a 27-3 victory over Cincinnati on Monday night. Ben Roethlisberger, the man Rudolph is temporarily replacing as the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback, never completed higher than 84 percent of his throws during his historically great rookie season back in 2004. 

Despite Rudolph's success, he and Pittsburgh's offensive coaching staff have been criticized for the Steelers' conservative offensive attack, particularly when it comes to the passing game. The Steelers also had success utilizing the wildcat against the Bengals, something that head coach Mike Tomlin said his offense may continue to integrate into future offensive game plans. 

"I thought he was awesome," Roethlisberger said of Rudolph's performance, via Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He didn't just manage the game. He went out and won the game."

Roethlisberger, who underwent surgery on his right elbow last week in Los Angeles, was on the sideline taking in Monday night's game. He was asked by Cook how much he was involved in helping Rudolph prepare for his first career home start. 

"I tried to help him," he said. "I told him before the game, 'I'll do as much or as little as you want. I'm here.' We talked during the game. He grabbed me when we came into the locker room after the game and told me, 'Thanks for your help. I appreciate you being there.' I just told him, 'Any way I can help.' I don't want to do too much if he doesn't want me to, but I'll do as much as he wants."

Roethlisberger, along with helping Rudolph, is also focused on his own rehab as he looks to make a full recovery by the time OTAs begin this spring. Big Ben, who will be 38 years old before the 2020 season begins, explained the main motivation behind his comeback. 

"I want to go out on my own terms," he said. "No one wants to leave on an injury they can't control."

In the meantime, the Steelers will try to make the most of the 2019 season, a season that is not lost despite Pittsburgh's 1-3 start. The Steelers, with a win over the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, would be the first team in the AFC North to start the season with a 2-0 record against divisional foes. While the offense showed signs of potential on Monday, Pittsburgh's defense looked like it could become an elite group by season's end, recording eight sacks, forcing two turnovers and holding Cincinnati to 0-3 red zone efficiency. 

When it comes to Rudolph, the second-year signal caller will surely start opening things up the more he gets comfortable reading defenses while working with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the type of plays he's comfortable with. Above all, Rudolph and the Steelers are about coming up with game plans that are cohesive with winning. While Pittsburgh's offense set a franchise record with 53 touchdowns last season, they also led the league in interceptions. The Steelers' offense, while less explosive than in recent seasons, is more focused on making the right play while putting their defense in better positions to have success. 

That isn't to say that the Steelers won't continue to work on expanding their passing attack. While Monday night's offensive game plan worked, opposing defenses will ultimately force Rudolph to test them deep. Rudolph has shown the ability to complete deep passes at this level, firing 39 and 43-yard scoring strikes to rookie wideout Diontae Johnson in consecutive weeks. 

"We're still working towards maybe taking some more shots," Rudolph told reporters following Monday night's game. "That's on me and what I'm comfortable with. We're still kinda moving towards that. It's only week two with me and Randy kinda being together. We'll continue to try to threaten teams vertically."

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