Nearly two decades ago, New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards famously explained that “you play to win the game.” While that’s still true, victory sometimes comes at a significant price. The Pittsburgh Steelers learned that first hand on Monday night when they defeated the Miami Dolphins.
While the Steelers might have won the game, their offense could have lost the war. It looks like the unit’s injury problems will continue, compounding the club’s struggles this season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ injury issues
The prevailing theme of the current Steelers season has been quarterback injuries. Ben Roethlisberger suffered an elbow injury in Week 2, confining him to the sidelines.
Mason Rudolph stepped into the breach and, after a rocky outing against the San Francisco 49ers, seemed to settle into the starting role. He played well in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but things took a scary turn against the Baltimore Ravens.
After rolling out of the pocket to throw a pass, Rudolph absorbed a massive hit from Earl Thomas. The quarterback went limp and fell to the turf; trainers rushed onto the field, unscrewed his facemask, and eventually helped him walk to the sidelines. Third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges was forced into action, finishing the game and getting the next start.
Monday night’s injuries
While Mason Rudolph returned to action on Monday night, things didn’t start smoothly in Pittsburgh. The quarterback was obviously rusty, and his teammates were sloppy; boos reigned down as the Miami Dolphins pulled ahead. “I would have booed that performance, too,” Rudolph said. “Coming out slow, and it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s a standard here, and we weren’t meeting it at the time.”
While things eventually started clicking and the Steelers earned the win, they didn’t escape the game scot-free. Running backs James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. both sustained injuries, with the former player reportedly leaving the stadium wearing a sling. Center Maurkice Pouncey played through a calf injury, while guard Ramon Foster suffered a concussion.
Pittsburgh’s problems moving forward
Given their quarterback situation, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has understandably struggled this season. While they’re already gaining less than 300 yards per game, things only look to be getting worse after Monday night.
The most obvious concern is the running game. While head coach Mike Tomlin only said that Conner hurt his AC joint (the top of his shoulder) and Snell Jr. injured his knee, he didn’t clarify either player’s availability going forward. Running back Jaylen Samuels is working his way back from knee surgery, leaving only one healthy ball-carrier on the Steelers roster. Even if Conner or Snell can play this upcoming weekend, it’s not ideal to rush them back in a short week.
A weak running game will force Rudolph to carry most of the offensive burden, but that could get harder, too. Foster, one of the league’s better linemen, is in concussion protocol, so it’s impossible to predict when he’ll return to action. Pouncey was able to play on Monday, but, as with the running backs, it’s tough to fully recover during a short week.
Facing the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon was already going to be tough. The Steelers’ latest injury report, however, has made the challenge even greater.