Welcome to Duck season Steelers fans. And buckle up, because this may last a while. Why? Because with Devlin Hodges under center the Steelers put up their best overall offensive performance of the season.
Yards and points per drive
I’ve talked this season about expected yards and points for a game, and used that to create a percentage of expected points/yards gained or allowed. If you are familiar, go ahead and skip the block quote, if not, you can read about the stat a bit below.
If you take total yards and points scored in a season and divide it by the number of possessions a team had you get their yards and points per drive. Taking that number and the number of drives that team had in a game you can predict how many points and yards they would gain on average for that game. If you take the actual production from that game it will give you a pretty good idea of how well the opposing defense was able to stop that offense. If you want to get a percentage of expected yards/points for an offense, you look at the defense they face, how many yards and points that defense typically gives up per drive, multiply by the number of drives in the game, and compare that to the actual yards and points gained in that game.
This season the Steelers defense has been stellar since picking up Minkah Fitzpatrick, allowing 71.6% of expected points and 77.3% of expected yards. The offense, meanwhile has scored pretty well (with notable exceptions for a few games) while struggling to move the ball, and that shows in the percentages, as since week 3 the Steelers are scoring 92.7% of expected points while only gaining 79.1% of expected yards. Short fields from turnovers and Boswell nailing field goals has been the primary driver of the higher scoring.
But this week against Cleveland, the Steelers did something they haven’t done yet this season, they surpassed 100% of expected yards and expected points in the same game.
The Browns have given up an average of 1.79 points and 28.7 yards per drive this season. With the Steelers having 10 drives in this past game the expected offensive production for the Steelers would be 287 yards and 18 points on offense. The Steelers gained 323 yards and scored 20 points, or 111.7% of expected points and 112.5% of expected yards. That’s the second best yards percentage of their season, after the Steelers put up 140% of the yards New England has been giving up this season in week 1, while the points percentage ranks 6th, but unlike the games ahead of it, the defense wasn’t driving the scoring in this game.
If we break down drives by QB, Hodges has the better percentage of expected offense.
In 17 drives Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers scored 80.7% of expected points and gained 104.8% of expected yards.
In 93.3 drives Mason Rudolph’s Steelers scored 88.3% of expected points and gained 76.0% of expected yards.
In 31.7 drives Devlin Hodges’ Steelers scored 108.2% of expected points and 86.9% of expected yards.
Third down conversions
Against the Browns the Steelers converted 4 of their 10 third downs, a 40% conversion rate. That’s the third highest rate of the season. The two games with better rates were against Miami (46%) and the Los Angeles Chargers (62%). With the LAC game being Devlin Hodges’ other start, it’s pretty easy to see that so far Devlin Hodges has been far better on third downs than Mason Rudolph this season. Miami is the worst team defending third downs the Steelers have played this season, while the Browns are actually the 5th best third down defense in the NFL.
Those conversions help the run game and they help control the clock, leading to fewer possessions for the opposition. Only three games this season have the Steelers had 10 possessions, every other game has 11+. Those three games are the first game against Cincinnati with Mason Rudolph starting, and Devlin Hodges’ two starts.
The three games before this last week the Steelers opponents had 43 drives, 14.3 drives per game. The Steelers offense with Devlin Hodges controls the clock better and helps the defense more than that same offense with Mason Rudolph has been able to do recently.
The run game
The Steelers have four 100+ yard rushing games this season. The win over the Dolphins when James Conner ran for 145 yards, the win over the Chargers, and the last 2 games, when the Steelers beat the Bengals and Browns.
That’s one game when James Conner dominated, and three games when Devlin Hodges played. Against Baltimore the Steelers ran for 59 yards with Devlin Hodges playing QB, compared to 18 yards with Mason Rudolph at QB.
Every time Devlin Hodges has played, the Steelers have run the ball better. As Mike Tomlin has stated before, when you convert on third down, you run the ball more. When you don’t pick up a 3rd and 4 more often than a 3rd and 10, then you shouldn’t run the ball on first and second down. When you have a QB that can convert third downs you can commit more to the run game, and that can wear down a defense late in a game.
It should stand out that the Steelers had the ball for 10:05 of the 4th quarter in Cincinnati as they turned a 10-10 tie into a 16-10 win, and it should stand out that against Cleveland this past Sunday, after the Browns made it a one score game and the Defense stood firm following Hodges’ awful interception, the Steelers ate the rest of the clock with a 3:50 drive that also burned the Browns timeouts, and then closed the game out with a first down rushing the ball.
Both of these games the offense came in at the end and helped seal a win.
The Steelers have 29 scoring drives where they gained at least 40 yards (not counting penalties). Devlin Hodges accounts for 9 of those drives. Ben Roethlisberger was the QB for 2, and Mason Rudolph the other 18.
When you take that as a percentage of their total drives played you get the following percentages:
Ben Roethlisberger: 11.8%
Mason Rudolph: 19.3%
Devlin Hodges: 28.4%
The Steelers offense led by Devlin Hodges to this point has been more likely to put together a long scoring drive than our other QBs.
The bottom line
The bottom line is the final score. After any game ends that is all that really matters. So for the final analysis, let’s look at the bottom line. So far Devlin Hodges has played two partial games and two complete games. Here’s the score breakdown from each of the games he played in.
Baltimore: Enters with Steelers trailing 13-17, final score 23-26. Score with Hodges? 10-9 Steelers.
at Los Angeles: plays full game, wins 24-17.
at Cincinnati: Enters with Steelers trailing 3-7, final score 16-10. Score with Hodges? 13-3.
Cleveland: plays full game, wins 20-13.
Hodges and the Steelers have outscored every team he has been on the field against.
Do Ducks fly in the desert?
When you put all of these stats together, it’s pretty clear that the Steelers offense has been better with Devlin Hodges at QB. The Steelers can’t go back to Mason Rudolph until Hodges has a terrible game or two and the offense isn’t able to move the ball. As long as the Steelers are converting third downs, limiting turnovers and actually helping the defense close out wins, Devlin Hodges has to be the starting QB.
But while Cleveland and Cincinnati were both poor run defense teams, Arizona is a pretty good run defense team, and the worst pass defense team in the NFL. Ranking last in yards per game and QB rating against, third worst in yards per attempt, TD% and INT%. I expect the Cardinals to double down on run defense early and force Devlin Hodges to beat them throwing the ball. This upcoming game Devlin Hodges will have a chance to throw the ball and put up yards. It will be interesting to see if he can lead the offense with his arm.