Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Great Expectations Deferred?

It wasn’t just the departure of Antonio Brown in the off-season. Nor was it simply the 3-30 shellacking by the New England Patriots in week one. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in trouble long before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured his elbow, and went out for the season.

Enter Mason Rudolph. The Steelers selected Rudolph in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. A pick of which Roethlisberger infamously said, “I was surprised that they took a quarterback, because I thought that maybe in the third-round, you know, you can get some really good football players that can help this team now.”

Now Rudolph has a chance to prove he is a “really good football player.” But does this audition amount to the lowering of the expectations for the Steelers season?

Season Until Now

Until now the Steelers’ season, both in reality and fantasy, has been anything but great expectations. It started with the beating at the hands of the New England Patriots.

Roethlisberger finished the game 27-of-47 for 276 yards. Zero touchdowns, one interception, one sack, and one fumble.

James Conner rushed 10 times for 21 yards for a 2.1 average. JuJu Smith-Schuster finished the game limping off the field after it was all but decided. Before that he was targeted eight times for six receptions totaling 78 yards. Donte Moncrief was targeted 10 times resulting in three receptions for seven yards.

Tight end Vance McDonald was targeted four times for two receptions getting himself 40 yards.

Week 2 v Seattle Seahawks

Moncrief was targeted one time, had one drop, and was benched. Connor increased his average to 3.0 yards per carry with 11 rushes for 33 yards. Smith-Schuster was targeted eight times for five catches culminating in 84 yards.

Rudolph for his part entered the game and played respectably. He finished the game 12-of-19 for 112 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

And Now

If you think that the Steelers’ doubt Rudolph’s ability, there are signs that that is an erroneous assumption. First they traded Josh Dobbs to Jacksonville. With a quarterback who is 37 years and prone to injury, they must have known that there would be a need for a reliable back-up.

Second when they had a chance to acquire a player, they didn’t go the quarterback route. They picked up safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in an attempt to tighten up a secondary that has yielded 300 yards and three touchdowns to Russell Wilson; and 341 yards and three touchdowns to Tom Brady.

Next Man Up Next Three Games

Two games is a very small sample size. Yet the Steelers currently lead the league in dropped passes (5). Their running back is averaging less than three yards a carry and this is behind what Pro Football Focus has ranked the third best offensive line in the league. What happened?

This Steelers will have to battle the much improved 2-0 San Francisco 49ers in week three, the struggling Cincinnati Bengals in week four, and the division leading Baltimore Ravens in week five.

The expectation has to be that they come out of this with at least two wins. That would be a win, even if Roethlisberger was under center, the expectations couldn’t be higher. Not with the start they had.

Is there a drop off with Rudolph under center? Certainly or he would be a starting quarterback. But is that drop off enough to lower expectations?

The next three games will point towards how to gauge your expectations.

Fantasy Football

In the fantasy football world wins and losses matter less than production. I.E. you can be a productive fantasy producer on a really sucky team. (Not saying the Steelers are going to be sucky, but so far their fantasy production has been).

If you drafted Smith-Schuster you are going to play him, but just temper your expectations. Until Connor finds his footing, same advice applies.

Expect an uptake in targets and production from James Washington. Washington was already the recipient of nine targets with the distinction of being the only wide receiver not to drop a pass. He has also been in on 55.65% of offensive snaps. Also Washington was the college teammate of Rudolph, so there is a familiarity there.

Tight end McDonald who was on the receiving end of both of Rudolph’s touchdown passes looks to become more of play-maker during the reign of Rudolph. Although he has been in on 80.65% of the offensive snaps, he almost doubled his targets collecting seven while pulling in seven receptions for 38 yards and two touchdowns once Rudolph entered the game.

With the injuries at quarterback, Rudolph will do you well in a two quarterback league. But truth be told, Roethlisberger was going in the 10th round in most fantasy drafts anyways, as the eleventh quarterback off the board. In retrospect that is way too high considering Tom Brady went 12th, Lamar Jackson was 14th and Dak Prescott went 17th, just to name a few.

Not saying that Rudolph is in that category, but he certainly is in Roethlisberger’s if we are going by his performance this season.

The problem is the expectations for the Steelers is always post-season/ Super Bowl. Now with a 0-2 start, bet on Rudolph’s stats to outshine what Roethlisberger had put on the field. However, temper the expectations, as coming out of this season with a respectable 8-8 should be considered a win.

The question is will the rest of the team play up to the Steelers expectation? They haven’t so far, and that’s not on Rudolph.

As for your fantasy hopes, bet on McDonald and, depending on the matchup, add Washington and Rudolph.

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