Week 5 was another frustrating, unnerving, yet still a promising start to the 2019 season for the 2019 Pittsburgh Stellers.
It’s very frustrating to lose a game because of a fluke turnover, but the punch-out fumble on Juju Smith-Schuster was just so well executed, it seemed as if that would’ve resulted in a fumble no matter who had the ball. Still, three of these losses were so close, it’s a promising sign that the team may be close to getting over the hump in these tight games.
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It was a rough way to lose, but possibly even more brutal because the Steelers were on the march to winning a game with a comeback engineered by the third-string quarterback. Devlin Hodges, who sounds more like your typical English bad guy from an action film, nearly led the Steelers to a come-from-behind win in a crucial divisional match-up.
The Rookie from Samford is a 6’1 athletic quarterback who had a knack for making plays with his feet in college. From the limited time we saw him last week, I think Hodges might actually make a better case to be the quarterback the Steelers can win with now.
An examination of both Steelers quarterbacks
Looking back on Rudolph’s performance in the game leads me to believe there’s merit to a Hodges vs Rudolph discussion. For one, Rudolph’s pocket presence still isn’t quite there, his release is slow, and he still doesn’t look confident throwing downfield. It’s likely just that certain quarterbacks develop faster than others, but for what it’s worth, Rudolph has looked better each week, so there’s still some promise for him in this league.
Lately, the pass protection has not been what it was in the past and maybe that’s amplified by having a young quarterback serving as bait for opposing defensive coordinators. Rudolph started out fairly well Sunday. He dropped a nice ball in to Washington on a deep in route. He followed that up later in the drive by sensing pressure on his blind side, stepping up and connecting with Juju for a nice YAC touchdown on a deep crossing route.
Shortly after that, though, he checked down a few times way too early and then backed up into the edge blitzer on his blind side, backpedaling out of the pocket. He then eyed down his first read on a few plays consecutively but then missed a man who had a step on the defender right down the middle of the field for a potential touchdown. In the following Ravens drive, the Steelers gifted Rudolph with another interception deep in Ravens territory, but Rudolph squandered it with a deep miss out of bounds. Rudolph then made a nice play, following another pick by the Steelers defense, where he evaded pressure and knowing he was about to be destroyed, made a good throw on the run to James Washington. That was it for Rudolph on Sunday.
Following the major concussion, Rudolph suffered, in came Devlin Hodges, straight off the screenplay of the next James Bond film. The difference in play between Hodges and Rudolph was clear from the first completion. Hodges made a quick three-step drop and hit Juju coming out of his break on an out route for a crisp completion. The most impressive part to me was the quick release. There’s just no windup or wasted motion in his delivery. The next pass was a bootleg dump off to Vance McDonald, who almost took it on for the score.
Following that, Hodges took off on a very nice scramble to set up the go-ahead field goal. In overtime, Hodges completed yet another pass under duress and hit Juju in stride on a medium crossing route before a Raven punched the ball out, recovered the fumble, and the Steelers lost tragically, again.
Hodges may be the better option this season
It’s a very small sample size, but there’s a simple argument as to why a quarterback like Hodges may be more valuable to a team in the short term than a quarterback like Rudolph. Quarterbacks with mobility and a good pocket presence can succeed in the short-term vs NFL defenses.
Think about early Colin Kapernick and Russell Wilson. Even in their NFL infancy, they would make one, maybe two reads and then take off. If you’re a pocket passer like Rudolph, who is already slow with his progressions, you’re risking a sack, fumble, dangerous throw, and intentional grounding when your first two reads aren’t open. Because Rudolph doesn’t quite have a good feel for the pocket yet, he’s more susceptible to these outcomes.
Hodges, on the other hand, made his one or two reads and either got the ball out quickly and accurately, or took off for decent yardage. It’s a safer play to have a dual threat quarterback in a new offense, versus one dependent on a strong O-line and competent going through progressions for him to succeed.
From what we saw with Hodges, compared to Rudolph, he will be much more suitable in this offense, given the issues with Rudolph’s lack of pocket awareness, slow release, lack of athleticism, and lower yards per attempt.
When you consider all that’s gone wrong, it’s really not looking too bad. Sure, they’re 1-4 and the odds of making the playoffs aren’t great, but this division doesn’t look all that good.
The Bengals look hopeless, the Browns are a roller coaster, and the Ravens defense just isn’t very good. It’s a long season ahead and the Steelers still have a shot at making the playoffs if they can just iron out a few issues on offense. The Steelers defense is also stepping up as of late and has done a lot to keep them in these games, as they currently hold a +5 on turnover margin.
Week 6 outlook
Per the PlaySugarHouse online casino, the Steelers are -6.5 underdogs against the Chargers in Carson.
It’s reasonable to expect this game to be close, given the Chargers offensive woes as of late and the Steelers defensive play. I think the Steelers will be forced to try to beat the Chargers through the air. I really like the Steelers defense in this game to keep things within reach, but I’m not sold on the Steelers offense yet.
I think Hodges will make some plays but the Chargers pass rush will be a little too difficult to consistently beat. I think the Chargers will play a safe game script and lean on Ekeler and Allen.