In my adult life, there have only been two quarterbacks I have hoped the Steelers would draft before they were actually chosen. One was a great prospect out of a small conference school in Ohio by the name of Benjamin Todd Rothlisberger. In watching one game of his during the 2003 college season, I was convinced the Steelers needed to trade up to get him. As I anxiously watched the 2004 NFL draft, I couldn’t believe Roethisberger was falling for the Steelers to not even have to make a trade to get him. I was a very happy man.
Fast forward to the lead up of the 2018 draft, and I felt that the best fit for the Steelers as a realistic draft choice was Mason Rudolph out of Oklahoma State University. I felt in such a quarterback-rich draft class that he would be available for them when they picked late in the first round. When the Steelers did not draft Rudolph, I was very excited when he was still there in the second round. Much to my dismay, they drafted his teammate wide receiver James Washington instead. But in the beginning of the third round, I was elated when the Steelers traded up three spots to snag Rudolph before the Cincinnati Bengals had the chance.
When Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2 this season, I was excited to see what Rudolph could do in the regular season for the rest of the game. Knowing Ben might miss some time, I thought the Steelers could get by. When it was determined Rothlisberger was out for the season and the initial heartbreak had subsided, I was all in on Rudolph stepping up to show that he could be a future franchise quarterback.
After the initial success from the Seahawks game, I was disappointed with the game plan and playcalling with Rudolph moving forward. I wanted to see him push the ball down the field a little more, but it seemed like offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was more interested in not making a mistake then taking any kind of chances.
In the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, I felt Rudolph was really beginning to progress. One of his best plays was his last one of the game where he moved through the pocket and completed a pass down field. Unfortunately, this play changed his entire season as he lay unconscious on the field.
Devlin Hodges entered the game against the Ravens in Week 5 and nearly pulled out a victory. Coming off the bench, he seemed poised and ready to go. It was quite the feat for a player who wasn’t even on the practice squad in Week 1.
The Steelers confidence in Hodges was a mixed review. The Steelers did not initially think enough of Hodges to keep him on their 53-man roster. But when given the opportunity to trade Josh Dobbs for a fifth round pick, the Steelers pulled the trigger because Hodges was still available. But even in bringing him back, the Steelers placed him on the practice squad which was an uncharacteristic move in the Kevin Colbert era.
Personally, I like Hodges’ story and wanted to see him make the squad. But like many said before Week 1 began, if the Steelers needed to call on Hodges during the season it meant things were not going how anyone expected. Unfortunately, this was exactly the case.
In his lone start in the NFL, Hodges led the Steelers to a victory on Sunday Night Football over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Steelers offense was aided by an early defensive score followed by another turnover which gave them a short field. Seeing the same conservative play calling from Coach Fichtner made Hodges 132 yards passing seen inefficient. But the Steelers still managed to win.
Returning from his concussion, Rudolph seemed to take a step back to start the Steelers game against Miami Dolphins coming out of the bye week. But the defense once again stepped up and the offense got going for the Steelers to put the game away. Rudolph still had many things to work on to improve as an NFL quarterback, but the Steelers won the next two games at home against the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams. It seemed as if the Steelers were starting to win the games they were not supposed to, and talk of the postseason began to re-emerge.
Then enter Week 11.
On a short week of preparation, Mason Rudolph struggled mightily against the Cleveland Browns and threw four interceptions. Add on the incident at the end of the game, and it was a very rough week for the quarterback. While some thought it was time to move to Hodges, it was not time yet. Rudolph needed a chance to bounce back from the performance.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
Rudolph seemed like a statue in the pocket and antsy when the pressure came around him. It appeared as if his confidence was shaken. After a three and out drive to start the second half, even I was ready for the Steelers to make a move. And that’s exactly what they did.
Hodges came in and gave an instant spark throwing for 90 yards on two plays, one of which was a 79-yard touchdown to James Washington. The decision to make the move, along with the timing, made head coach Mike Tomlin look like a genius.
Unfortunately, the remaining of the game was very lackluster from Hodges. He only completed three more passes on nine attempts for 28 yards. The Steelers did manage two feel goals in order to secure a victory against the winless Bengals. Most importantly, Hodges took care of the ball and didn’t turn it over.
So who is the quarterback moving forward?
Head coach Mike Tomlin was not ready to state who would be starting in Week 12 as the Steelers the quarterback. Although he admitted he may already know the decision, he was not ready to share it. It’s a very wise move to keep your opponent in the dark, so it’s no shock the Steelers are waiting.
Personally, based on how the game transpired against the Bengals, Devlin Hodges should be the starting quarterback in Week 12 against the Cleveland Browns. I believe it would be better for both players. I think Rudolph needs to reset his mind because his biggest problem right now lies between his ears. As for Hodges, he brings an added spunk and personality to the huddle where his physical abilities may be limited. And at this point of the season, it might be exactly what the Steelers need.
I do not think the book is closed on Mason Rudolph with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It may not even be closed for Rudolph in the 2019 season. There is a good chance Hodges could face some of the same struggles as Rudolph, especially when it comes to game planning and playcalling. But what Hodges brings to the table is more of what the Steelers need when they face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Whether the Steelers go with Rudolph or Hodges, I believe either quarterback will be given a short leash. If the Steelers think one quarterback gives them a better advantage to win the game over another, they have shown they will not be afraid to make the change if it is necessary.
I don’t care if it takes six different quarterbacks in a game. If the Steelers can do whatever they need to win the game, it’s good enough for me.