Another Sunday, another Pittsburgh Steelers game, another new starting quarterback. For the second time this season, injuries have forced the team to make a change at the position. First it was Mason Rudolph taking over for Ben Roethlisberger after he suffered a season-ending elbow injury.
Now with Rudolph in the concussion protocol, undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges is making his first career start, and doing so in primetime on the west coast against the Los Angeles Chargers. So if we’re going to talk about what to watch for, it’s obviously going to begin with a discussion of the new quarterback.
In spite of the fact that he is their number three quarterback, don’t be surprised to see the Steelers throw the ball quite a bit, because that is actually the biggest thing that Hodges brings to the table. Oddly, if they can establish the passing game early, that can actually help them bring the sluggish running game along.
Pass protection will be big in this one, though. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are no joke, and Alejandro Villanueva already got embarrassed by the former’s younger brother, Nick Bosa, when the Steelers played the San Francisco 49ers. Matt Feiler has been better in pass protection the last two weeks after a bit of a rocky start.
On the other side, you have to have the front five take advantage of the Chargers’ offensive line, which is now down both Russell Okung and Mike Pouncey, the latter of whom just went on the Reserve/Injured List. Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave: this is your game.
Donte Moncrief. With James Washington sidelined, this is the veteran’s chance to get himself back involved in the offense, which he hasn’t been a real factor in since Week One, when he caught three of 10 targets for seven yards.
On the other side, you have Keenan Allen. He had a big three games to start the season, but has been cooler the past two weeks. We know what he did against the Steelers and their linebackers this year. We’ll see how they adjust their coverage assignments on him this time around, but they can’t ignore their other weapons, including Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler. That means Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
One player they won’t have is Steven Nelson, who reportedly did not even make the trip west with the Steelers. Artie Burns will make his first meaningful start since Week Two of last year in Nelson’s place, and how he holds up can go a long way toward determining this outcome.
And I have to say it: officiating. The last time these two teams played, the Chargers scored twice because of infractions that were not called on the field. It’s highly unlikely that happens again, of course, but on the subject of penalties in general, they have to play cleaner than they have through the first five weeks as well.