Devlin Hodges Named Starting Quarterback

Digital, Writing


It wasn’t too long ago that Devlin Hodges was thrown into the Pittsburgh Steelers offense while season mainstay Mason Rudolph nursed a concussion. Just a few weeks and another big blow to the head later and Rudolph was once again watching Duck Hodges from the sidelines. This time, Rudolph was only nursing a bruised ego.

Coach Mike Tomlin decided he’d seen enough from Rudolph early in the third quarter of their Sunday matchup against the winless Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers were able to roll with the change of leadership and a host of new offensive talent in Week 12, but barely squeaked past the Bengals for the 16-10 win.  

Devlin Hodges Will Start for Pittsburgh Steelers

This year has been a constant test of how quickly this Steelers locker room can adapt to change. Since the news broke in September that franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wouldn’t return this season, there have been at least 59 changes to Pittsburgh’s active roster. The announcement of Big Ben being done for the season brought Hodges back to the Steelers locker room after he was initially cut in the preseason. The Pittsburgh front office got busy, not only alternating their starters and scout team, but also signing new talent off of other NFL practice squads.

Injuries continue to be a problem in Pittsburgh. Big name players, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, both missed the game against the Bengals with injuries. It was showtime for new talent. The newest talent came to the Steelers after late-season grabs from practice squads.

The Quarterback Shuffle

It’s always a bold choice when a coach redirects their offensive scheme like Tomlin decided to do. But Sheldon Richardson of the Cleveland Browns said it best when asked about Rudolph potentially being replaced.

“I hope he [Rudolph] plays,” Richardson told reporters. “Did you see him last time?”

Richardson’s answer, although dripping in sarcasm, was a question many were asking themselves already. Fines, allegations, and brawl melodrama aside, Rudolph hasn’t been producing. He couldn’t even produce against Cincinnati, who has the third-worst defense in the league.

Against Cincinnati Rudolph only completed 8-of-16 for 85 yards and also threw an interception. In addition to his dismal stat line, the quarterback has shown no progress when it comes to being decisive in the pocket. Before being pulled last Sunday, his inability to anticipate what the defense would do and adapt led to several intentional grounding penalties.

Although Duck was able to spark a comeback once he replaced Rudolph, he still only completed 5-of-11 passes on the night. A long bomb to James Washington for a 79-yard gain was a game-changing play for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh won the game with field goals. Even so, in his weekly press conference, Tomlin officially named Hodges the starting quarterback for Sunday’s rematch against the Browns. Tomlin told reporters Hodges “provided us a spark in-game.”

“I’m hopeful he is capable of continuing that spark as we step into this stadium,” he continued.

Sheldon Richardson and the Browns defense will face a different Steelers offense without Mason Rudolph and center Maurkice Pouncey to prepare for this week. Pouncey is serving the final game of his suspension for his role in the melee with Myles Garrett.

The Decision is Not a Punishment

Rudolph being benched isn’t the only change being made to this Pittsburgh offense. Their problems run deeper than the quarterback position. Tomlin maintained in his press conference that the issues plaguing the offensive lineup all boil down to ball protection.

“I have a lot of patience for young guys, but one thing we need to do is take care of the ball,” said Tomlin.

Rudolph still has two years left on his rookie deal with Pittsburgh. He’ll likely stay on with the Steelers as Rothlisberger’s backup for at least one more season. The decision to sit Rudolph this week is not as career-ending as Pittsburgh fans or media would have most believe.

The young gun could benefit from this switch. He needs to prove to his teammates and coaches that he is comfortable with making quick decisions in the pocket and moving away from pressure. The Browns defense capitalized on Rudolph’s inability to create opportunities in the pocket.

After what happened at the end of the last matchup of these two teams, tensions are high riding into this division rivalry game. Pittsburgh is hoping that Hodges can provide a needed spark to the Steelers offense.

From a November 27, 2019 report for Last Word on Sports: NFL.

Minkah Magic: Pittsburgh Steelers Are Back to ‘Blitz’-burgh Defense

Digital, Uncategorized, Writing

minkahThe in-season acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was under heavy scrutiny at first. Fans questioned if Fitzpatrick would have a big enough impact to offset a potential top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Since his start in Week 3, Fitzpatrick has made one thing very clear: he is worth that first-round pick and more.

Pittsburgh Steelers Rolling Thanks to Minkah Magic

There’s no denying the top of the Steelers’ schedule was brutal. Pittsburgh opened the season with a crushing defeat at the hands of the dominant New England Patriots, followed by a nail-biting loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The losing tour ended with a West Coast road trip where the San Francisco 49ers delivered the Steelers their third consecutive loss.

The Pittsburgh defense was barely scraping by. According to Week 3 DVOA data, the Steelers had a defensive efficiency rate of 21.3 percent, ranked 26th in the league and 30th for overall team efficiency. That’s out of 32 teams: third worst in a world that the Miami DolphinsCincinnati Bengals, and Washington Redskins all exist.

Fast forward to Week 5 of the regular season. The Steelers found themselves down a quarterback once after Mason Rudolph had to be escorted off the field with a major concussion. It was showtime for the Steelers defense up against a uniquely powerful Baltimore Ravens offense led by Lamar Jackson. The defense came away with three interceptions and held the Ravens to their smallest lead of the season. It was an all-out battle for both teams as the clock ran into overtime.

A 46-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, the best kicker in the league, secured the win for Baltimore. Despite the loss, Pittsburgh’s ability to go toe-to-toe with an offense that has proven to be the powerhouse of this season was the beginning of a new or maybe not-so-new era of defensive play. Fans are already hailing this transformation as a return to a defensive golden age. Could this young defense be the ‘Steel Curtain’ of a new age?

Welcome Back to ‘Blitz’-burgh

This Pittsburgh team was plagued by injuries and roster shake-ups early in the season. As dramatic as football season can be many were already looking to the future. A 2020 first-round draft pick could be a huge tool for the future of this franchise that needed a reset. When news broke that the Steelers had given up a first-round pick in the 2020 draft for Minkah Fitzpatrick, the second-year safety out of Miami, fans questioned if he would be worth the loss of a potential top-10 pick.

Fitzpatrick put all of those questions to bed Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams at home in Heinz Stadium. The energy was electric as fans watched the Pittsburgh defense dominate the Rams offense. The Steelers gave the Rams a true ‘Blitz’burgh welcome denying them an offensive touchdown the entire game. The last time the Rams were held like this was their December 9th matchup against the Chicago Bears last season.

The trade for Fitzpatrick back in Week 2 wasn’t a quick fix but over the weeks he’s proven he is the man to revolutionize this defense. The in-season acquisition of Fitzpatrick brought with it huge reductions in yards allowed and boosts in defensive DVOA rankings. Week 9 data has Pittsburgh tied with the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Rams for the third-best defense in the league. From 21.3 percent back in week three to a competitive -8.8 percent defensive efficiency rating is a huge leap.

Fans who once questioned his impact are singing his praises as this defensive renaissance continues to take shape. Fitzpatrick is the only player to have at least one interception in three consecutive games since Pittsburgh royalty Troy Polamalu. A new hope is growing behind this young defensive scheme. This could be the beginning of another golden age for the black and yellow defense.

They’re Just Getting Started

There’s been a huge focus on the youth movement on the offensive side of the ball out in Pittsburgh with stand out young guns like Juju Smith-Shuster and James Conner putting on a show last season. Now, we are seeing a resurgence on the defensive end led by incredibly strong and young talent in the back end. TJ Watt, 25, Devin Bush, 21, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, 22, are some of the most lethal weapons the Steelers have on the field and they’re just getting started.

Sunday’s showing highlighted this defense’s ability to pressure the quarterback. According to Laura Okmin’s coverage of the game for Fox Sports, it’s not opposing offenses that this Steelers team is preparing for. Okmin took to Twitter to explain Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree’s defensive mentality. So how does this defense prepare if they’re not solely focused on the offense?

“We want to be the best defense in the stadium,” said Dupree. For this defense they must measure up against their opposing defense and past Steeler defenses, that is the true benchmark. It’s this mentality combined with a raw power coming out of the defensive end that is turning the Steeler season around.

Can They Keep It Up?

The great news for Steelers fans is that this team has been able to find some serious strengths amid a brutal schedule and injury melodrama. What’s coming next should be a great relief for the Pittsburgh franchise. This second half of their schedule doesn’t present too many challenges ahead.

Over the next six weeks, their toughest opponent is shaping up to be the Buffalo Bills on December 15th. They will face the Cleveland Browns twice in the meantime. It’s no secret that the Browns franchise is their own worst opponent. Also in the onslaught are the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals who both hold the last place positions for their respective divisions.

This team could be the comeback threat of the season. The true test will come on December 29th when this Steelers defense travels to Baltimore for what can only be called a redemption match.

From a November 11, 2019 report for Last Word on Sports: NFL.


The Big 3: Hottest Sports Headlines of the Week November 4 – November 11

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Gabrielle Dunham of NYU Undergraduate Journalism brings you her Big 3: The Hottest Sports Headlines of the Week.

Catch up on Le’veon Bell, Dez Bryant, and Jimmy Butler as Dunham reports the week’s top stories. The first edition in what will become a weekly series. Subscribe and leave comments below on headlines you want to see next.