As we will do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. The key area to watch in the Sunday finale against the Baltimore Ravens.
X Factor: Devlin Hodges
Final X Factor of the regular season. And I’m really swinging for the fences with a selection of…the starting quarterback. But the Steelers’ offense hasn’t been this bad since the pre Ben Roethlisberger era and they’re facing a Ravens’ defense, while resting some starters, have been playing dominant football the second half of the year.
They’ve gone ten games not allowing more than 21 points, the longest single season streak by any defense since the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. It sure doesn’t look likely that Pittsburgh, a unit that hasn’t hit 28 points all season long.
But if they’re going to get close to that mark and have any semblance of offensive rhythm, a concept that’s been fleeting, it starts with Duck. Taking care of the ball is the #1 goal, one they’ve failed to do for the past 22 games. But they’re also reliant on creating big plays in the pass game because this offense simply isn’t good enough, and it isn’t close, to go on long, 12 play drives. Feast or famine. That’s the approach. And this offense is starving for splash.
Baltimore is probably going to blitz the heck out of Hodges. No team has brought the heat more than the Ravens, most of their secondary is expected to play at least part of the game – only FS Earl Thomas is reportedly going to sit out – and pressure has been the obvious blueprint to making Pittsburgh implode in their last two losses. Ready or not, Hodges is going to have to stand tall in the face of pressure and chaos and make some big-time throws. No avoiding it.
Hodges has to get back to play how he was when Duck Mania was at its peak. Playing looser, with more confidence, energy, and attacking downfield. Tangibly, he’ll need to show a much better process and ability to read defenses, especially zone blitzes that caused him to throw his first interception against the Jets.
If the Steelers want to keep that dimming light that is the playoffs on, for a little while longer at least, Hodges needs to have a mistake-free game that showcases one or two deep ball completions.