Up until the recent helmet-swinging drama with the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers have been flying somewhat under the radar since the replacement of Ben Rothlisberger at quarterback. They’re still in the postseason mix – winning six out of their last seven games – even if their situation isn’t perfect. With a record of 7-5, the Steelers are in second place in the AFC North, overshadowed by the much-hyped Baltimore Ravens. If the season ended today, they’d have the sixth and final AFC playoff seed. And now that they’ve switched up their quarterback situation, starting Devlin Hodges over Mason Rudolph, the coaches and team are feeling optimistic. Still, with four games left in the Steelers’ regular season, how many wins will be enough to clinch a spot in the NFL Playoffs?
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Quarterback Struggles & Swaps
It didn’t take long this season for Steelers veteran quarterback Roethlisberger to leave the field and backup Mason Rudolph to take over. Week 2 sent Big Ben off with a season-ending injury, and Rudolph, an impressive college QB, has generally seemed unable to cope with the pressures of the NFL. He managed to lead his team to four victories, but after a poor performance against the terrible Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Mike Tomlin pulled him out. Rudolph was replaced with the undrafted rookie, Devlin Hodges, who led the Steelers to victory in that game. And then he did it again against the Cleveland Browns in Week 13.
Now it looks like the Steelers have themselves a new starting quarterback – they’ve announced that Hodges will start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals too. Tomlin has been impressed with the former fourth-string QB, now 2-0 with three touchdowns and a 63.5% completion rate, saying that the 23-year-old has performed well in “hostile environments.” No, beating the Bengals wasn’t that big of a deal, but his continued performance and poise against the Browns and his confidence in throwing the ball long has been key. And lest we forget, he also beat the Chargers when he started earlier this season, and he took over against the Ravens after Rudolph suffered a concussion (nearly winning the game in overtime).
And his stats speak for themselves. Hodges is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt, and though his sample size is small, that’s better than every other quarterback but Ryan Tannehill. Unlike Rudolph, he’s willing to really go for it when he throws. Should Devlin “Duck” Hodges have been playing all season? Maybe. Guess hindsight is 20/20 for the Steelers. Let’s see what he can do in these final four games!
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More Offensive Woes
It hasn’t been all quarterback drama though. One of the biggest struggles for the Steelers lately has been playing without key weapons like wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner.
Smith-Schuster, the Steelers’ top receiver, says he hopes to be back help with the Steelers’ final playoff push following a knee injury that’s kept him out the past two games. In the meantime, Diontae Johnson and James Washington have been stepping up in his place. Connor just returned to practice in “limited capacity,” but he’ll miss his third straight game against the Cardinals, his fifth missed game this year. He only has 390 rushing yards on the season, which is a disappointment after making the Pro Bowl last year. Players Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels have taken over for Connor on the field. It sure would be nice to have these starters back though, particularly in the coming weeks.
The good news for the Steelers? Despite these injuries and changes at quarterback, they’re still winning. Pittsburgh plays the Cardinals (3-8) on Sunday, which is also a very winnable game. They then play a challenging Buffalo Bills (9-3) team, followed by the New York Jets (4-8) before wrapping up the regular season against the dominant Baltimore Ravens (10-2).
Of course, the performance of other AFC teams will affect the Steelers’ playoff hopes, so all they can really do is rack up as many wins as humanly possible in these final weeks. It’s entirely plausible that nine wins will do it, but last year, that wasn’t enough. Let’s see how Hodges and the rest of Steelers perform as we inch closer to the postseason!