Steelers can’t win, but here’s how Cleveland Browns can lose

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 14: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to throw the ball during the game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 14: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to throw the ball during the game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /
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GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 08: Quarterback Mason Rudolph #2 (C) of the Pittsburgh Steelers sits alongside Devlin Hodges (L) and Ben Roethlisberger (R) during the second half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Steelers defeated the Cardinals 23-17. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

5.  Don’t Underestimate Mason Rudolph

Let us be clear that Ben Roethlisberger is by far the better quarterback for the playoffs, if they rest his overused elbow, not to mention the rest of his 38-year-old big self, that would help him a lot. However, this is not the playoffs. For the Steelers, this would be a nice game to win because it might give them second seed, but they do not control that. Buffalo has to also lose to Miami.

They will also be grinning from ear to ear if they knock the Browns out of the playoffs.

Under those constraints, for this game against the Browns, a healthy Mason Rudolph might be just as dangerous or perhaps more so, given that at the moment Big Ben is not 100 percent.

Browns fans hate Rudolph for fighting with Myles Garrett. Steelers fans hate him for trying to take Big Ben’s job. But he may be the most underrated quarterback in the league. In the 2018 draft, the Steelers took him not because they needed a quarterback. They were more than happy with Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs as Roethlisberger’s backups.

However, they regarded Rudolph as a first-round talent and couldn’t stand to see him slide any further. The quarterback hungry teams had already gorged themselves on Baker, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson, and nobody really wanted Mason Rudolph.

The thing is, if you watch him throw, you can carp that he isn’t as good as the top four, and he certainly can not do the things that dual-threat Jackson can do. You know what, though? That does not disqualify him from being at the level of a first-round draft choice.

There aren’t many quarterbacks from any year who could match the QB class of 2018 in terms of talent. Who actually throws the ball better than Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield anywhere in the NFL? Maybe Aaron Rodgers. Mason Rudolph is probably a top 20 NFL quarterback. Looking at Rudolph’s career stats, he has been okay, with a 5-3 record as a starter and 81.8 career passing rating, which is actually a little higher than Mayfield’s 2019 rating.

In any case, right now, on January 3, 2020, he’s better able to throw the deep ball to the likes of Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Vance McDonald, and Eric Ebron. The Steelers have plenty of talented receivers. If Rudolph can buy just a little bit of time, they could have a bit more of a vertical passing threat than Rothlisberger’s Dink Machine offense of the last two months.

The past several weeks, defensives have realized that Roethlisberger cannot throw it over their heads and so linebackers and defensive backs have been creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, finally realizing that they can indeed get away with it.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see Rudolph post some major league passing yards against the Browns, especially with cornerback Denzel Ward, linebacker Malcolm Smith, safety Andrew Sendejo, and safety Karl Joseph on the Covid-19 list.

This may not be the kid to dial up all kinds of exotic blitzes for, and with Ward and Joseph out, they may not want to go man-to-man coverage on the Steelers’ wide receivers. Garrett and Vernon should be able to put pressure on Rudolph with just a four-man rush.

Next. Browns 2021 New Year’s resolutions. dark

If the Browns play a normal game, they will win.  If they try to play the most fantastic game of their careers, that is when they can blow it.