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.