Playing it safe does not always have to bring along a negative connotation but in the NFL and especially throughout the winter months, the best teams cannot be afraid to push the envelope. That is why it was very fitting that on the first day of December, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense decided to push the envelope and push the ball downfield.
While Mason Rudolph can be described as a game manager, Devlin Hodges is everything but a game manager. A self-proclaimed gunslinger, Hodges not only fearlessly threw the football down the field but he was also very efficient at doing so. In his first start since week six, the undrafted rookie quarterback completed four of his six pass attempts that travelled 20 yards or further downfield according to Next Gen Stats.
Completing four passes downfield (20+ yards) has been practically unheard of for the Steelers, well at least in 2019 anyways. Hodges’s four completed passes downfield was not only the most from a Steelers’ quarterback this season but also the most since Ben Roethlisberger also completed four passes downfield in week 16 of last season.
According to Next Gen Stats, there were only two quarterbacks last week that averaged more air yards per completion than Hodges (8.0). They were Ryan Fitzpatrick (8.5) and Tom Brady (8.2). Only Baker Mayfield (11.1) averaged more air yards per pass attempt than the Steelers’ quarterback (10.6).
Hodges’ ability to push the ball downfield was a breath of fresh air after Rudolph struggled in that department for most of the season. Consider this, the undrafted rookie quarterback completed just as many deep passes last Sunday as Rudolph had completed over his last five games according to Next Gen Stats’ numbers.
While Hodges is working with a small sample size, the difference in production between the two when it comes to hitting downfield passes should come with a disclaimer and a warning because these numbers are not for the faint of heart. By compiling all of Next Gen Stats’ charting, Rudolph was just 4/23 on passes that travelled 20-yards or more downfield over his last five games. When pushing it back to Rudolph’s last six starts, that turns into 4/26 on deep passes and that includes two ugly showings, an 0/7 game against the Cleveland Browns in week 11 and a 1/9 performance against the Miami Dolphins in week eight.
The body of work put together by the rookie quarterback was very encouraging, especially for a team that has been starved of the deep ball this season. Hodges had a couple pretty deep balls to James Washington and Deon Cain last Sunday that left the stadium and viewers at home in awe. Often times when someone talks about a quarterback’s accuracy, they will use phrases such as “he put that one in the basket” and Hodges showed that he is capable of putting the ball in his receiver’s breadbasket.
Now this does not necessarily mean that the Steelers are going to be bringing out the air raid offense on a weekly basis but Hodges’ gunslinger mentality might come in handy down the stretch. For much of the last month, the Steelers’ best offense has been their defense but the team might need a bigger boost than that as they approach December and possibly January football. Hodges showed he could provide more than a few splash plays last weekend and that is exactly what the Steelers may need if they want to make a splash during this season’s closing act.