While Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin belabored the point yesterday that Mason Rudolph is his starting quarterback for the remainder of the season, that doesn’t mean that he was in any way disappointed in the performance of rookie Devlin Hodges in his start on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, a game that they were able to win.
What he was relative to Hodges was realistic, understanding that they were limiting what they asked of the young quarterback and put him within a framework in terms of gameplan that they were comfortable with him executing.
“He didn’t kill us”, he said when asked to assess Hodges’ performance, “and that’s what you need from young quarterbacks. Generally, he took care of the ball. He made the plays that he needed to make”.
He finished the game completing 15 of 20 pass attempts for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but the majority of the yardage that he picked up came after the catch, and from his running backs.
“We were thoughtful about the positions that we put him in”, Tomlin said. “We converted about three or four possession downs via the run. Many others we dumped off in the flat and allowed James Conner to win them after the catch. We did the things that we needed to do to secure victory in that instance”.
The ability to sustain drives was important in the outcome of the game, allowing them to control not just the possession but the pace of the game. The Steelers held on to the ball for a little over 34 minutes, over eight minutes more than their opponents. Those number had tended to be flipped during the first five weeks of the season.
That’s not because Hodges was fantastic, though. They converted eight of 13 third downs, and half of those came via the ground game. The bulk of the other plays were, as Tomlin said, running backs making plays after the catch on passes thrown short of the chains, leaving it in the hands of their playmakers to make plays.
The fact that the Steelers had this sort of gameplan for Hodges, I think, should tell you that they very much are approaching this season with the mindset that they still have the capability to win any and every game that they are in, and will make every effort to win.
It doesn’t have to be pretty, you just have to score more than the other team. Otherwise they would probably be open to taking more risks in an effort to get a better look at their young quarterbacks by giving them more complete and dynamic assignments. Throttling them and limiting what is asked of them, they believe, is putting them in the best position to win games, which is their only intention, or at least the primary.