With Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being held out of the team’s Week 17 regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, it afforded the team the opportunity to dress both of their backups at the position, Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs. Not only did both dress, but both also played as even the third-stringer Dobbs was utilized in some specific offensive packages throughout the game against the Browns. After Sunday’s loss, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if it’s possible that Dobbs might again dress for the team’s Sunday Super Wild Card game against the Browns and he did not shoot that notion down. On Tuesday, Tomlin was again asked if he’s giving serious consideration to dressing Dobbs against the Browns on Sunday.
“We’re going to have that discussion as an offensive staff,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “We meet a little bit this afternoon. It was good to get both guys [Rudolph and Dobbs] in the stadium [against the Browns in Week 17]. Both guys helped their cause, neither guy hurt their cause. We talked openly about what Josh brings that’s a little bit different that maybe levels the playing field and creates things to work on and think about and so that’s an asset to him. We’ll ponder those possibilities and make appropriate decisions that best benefit us. Maybe it’s one or the other in regards to them, maybe it’s both guys. All things are on the table as we work to put ourselves in position to win this football game.”
In short, Tomlin is not going to tip his hand regarding Dobbs and that will likely result in the Browns needing to spending time in practice this week preparing for the possibility that the very mobile third-string quarterback might once again be used in certain and very limited offensive packages in Sunday’s playoff game just as he was this past Sunday in Cleveland. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski even admitted in his Monday press conference that his team will likely need to prepare for Dobbs to play again in Sunday’s playoff game against them.
“I think we expected it to look different with the change in quarterback, and we expect it to look different again this week,” Stefanski said on Monday. “That is part of their job is to play to their players’ strengths. We understand that may change. It is our job to put ourselves in their building, think like them and try and get a feel for what they may do this week. That is what we are going to work hard on. Like you mentioned, they had wrinkles yesterday [on Sunday] with Dobbs coming in there to run it. They absolutely could do that again this week or not. That is part of the preparation. There is the game theory in trying to understand what they are doing and how it informs your decisions and game planning.”
After Tomlin left open the idea that Dobbs might suit up again on Sunday night against the Browns, he was asked to disclose what all goes into his decision-making process when it comes to offering something new in a game plan versus offering something new that could surprise a team and what kind of challenges are presented in doing just that with just a few days before a big game.
“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s something significant,” Tomin said. “It’s simple, prudent business decision-making. What’s the potential benefit and what are the potential costs? And those decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s many layers to it. But this is what I do. This is what we’ve done all year and really all my adult life. And so, it’s not interesting from my perspective.”
So, will we again see Dobbs dress on Sunday night against the Browns at Heinz Field? While it’s certainly possible, dressing three quarterbacks is tough to do because of team’s only being able to dress 48 players in total. Dressing Dobbs on Sunday would likely result in one extra linebacker or defensive back not dressing for the contest.
The Steelers must dress eight offensive linemen on Sunday and they usually dress at least five defensive linemen. The team usually likes to dress at least eight total linebackers, two tight ends, four running backs and nine total defensive backs as well, in addition to five wide receivers, two quarterbacks and their three kicking game specialists. That leaves one spot open that might could go to an extra special teams player like a linebacker or defensive back.
Against the Browns this past Sunday, Dobbs, who had previously been inactive for the Steelers first 15 games of the season, played nine total snaps. He was 4 of 5 passing for 2 yards on five of those plays, which were all essentially very short throws with most happening behind the line of scrimmage. He handed off on two other plays and ran twice for 20 yards.
Prior to the playing time Dobbs received against the Browns this past Sunday, the last time he played in a regular season NFL game was in the Steelers 2018 Week 14 road game against the Oakland Raiders. He played 19 offensive snaps in place of an injured Roethlisberger in that road loss and completed just four of nine pass attempts for 24 yards and an interception in that contest in addition to running twice for another 15 yards.