Mason Rudolph was mostly a game manager during his first career start, a 24-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers that saw him go 14 of 27 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. During the game, CBS color analyst Trent Green openly wondered why Rudolph -- a prolific passer during his time at Oklahoma State -- and the Steelers' offense weren't taking more shots down the field.
Green, a former NFL quarterback, will likely be happy with what he sees on Monday night, as Rudolph and the Steelers' offense look to take more chances against the visiting Bengals in a matchup between two winless teams. Pittsburgh is a 3.5-point favorite against Cincinnati, a team that hasn't defeated the Steelers since 2015.
"Yeah, for sure," Rudolph told reporters this week when asked if he plans to take more chances down the field in his first career start at Heinz Field. "Opportunities in the first quarter [against the 49ers], really the first couple of drives, I could have been more aggressive towards. I'm an aggressive person. That's who I've always been at the quarterback position. So a little unlike me, but [those] mistakes, you're always looking forward to cleaning up. I think we have already this week in practice. We flipped the switch a long ago to Cincinnati. We're excited. We got a really good plan this week."
Despite their 0-3 record, the Bengals possess a solid pass defense. Led by safety (and defensive captain) Shawn Williams, fellow safety Jessie Bates and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson, Cincinnati is 12th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Conversely, Cincinnati's run defense, despite having standouts Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap on their defensive line, are 31st against the run heading into Monday night's game. With that in mind, the Steelers will surely try to get James Conner -- who has had a rough start to the 2019 season -- into a groove early.
Rudolph said that the Steelers will also make it a priority to get second year running back Jaylen Samuels involved in the offense after Samuels failed to get a single touch in San Francisco. Rudolph will also look to gain a quick rapport with tight end Nick Vannett, who was traded from Seattle to Pittsburgh this week. Vannett, an Ohio State product and third round pick in the 2016 draft, told reporters this week that he spent time working with Rudolph during this past offseason.
While they won't be facing Ben Roethlisberger, the Bengals are not taking Rudolph and Pittsburgh's offense lightly.
"They still have the same system," Williams said of Pittsburgh's offense, via the Steelers' team website. "Still have the same brand of football. They're going to give you what they have. They're tough up front. They're going to run the ball. They still have a playmaker in JuJu (Smith-Schuster). They have James Conner. Both are Pro Bowl players and they have some young guys stepping up playing good football. It's a new team for both parties involved, but it's still the rivalry."
Rudolph, who said that he has no issues taking snaps from under center after mostly running plays out of the shotgun in college, said that he feels more confident heading into Monday's game after getting an entire week to prepare as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback. He said that he and his teammates are also embracing the pressure that is associated with Monday night's game. While a win would get the Steelers to 1-0 in the division heading into their Week 5 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, a loss would all but end Pittsburgh's 2019 season.
"I mean, the standard here of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the standard, and we know that look forward to answering the call every season," Rudolph said. "As long as I've been here, that's been preached as our motto. We understand that we need to win and we're looking forward to winning and getting this thing back on track. Once you stack one, they start to just come easier.
"The goal is to win wherever you're at," he continued. "That's what I've always done. I'm a winner. That's how I feel, and that's what I'm gonna do."