It's Duck Season in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that the Steelers will continue to play Devlin Hodges at quarterback as they host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
"Really the decision is clear to us and some really clear reasons why," Tomlin said. "Like I talked about after the game, I thought he provided us a spark. In game, I'm hopeful that he's capable of continuing to provide that spark as we step into this stadium."
Hodges replaced Mason Rudolph during the third quarter of the Steelers' matchup in Cincinnati. Hodges used his first two passes to go 90 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to James Washington, to give Pittsburgh a 13-10 lead. He finished 5-11 for 118 yards and a touchdown.
Tomlin said after the game that Hodges provided a "spark" that the Steelers needed. Rudolph went 8-16 for 85 yards and an interception. Tomlin acknowledged on Tuesday that Rudolph's play has deteriorated over the last several weeks, but it isn't all in Rudolph's control.
"In recent quarters of action, we've really been bogged down and it's due to a lot of things and it goes beyond Mason and his performance. He's been in and out of the lineup, some running backs and offensive linemen have been in and out of the lineup. We've missed some guys at receiver, specifically in our last game, the combination of playing without [James] Conner and JuJu [Smith-Schuster]. So, maybe some of those negative things have worn away at elements of Mason's play. He hasn't protected the ball at recently like he did through the courses of his participation. I have a lot of patience for young guys, but one thing that we need to do is take care of the ball. So, that's one of the reasons why we gave Devlin an opportunity in Cincy. Once given the opportunity he took care of the ball and provided a spark. So, we just thought it was reasonable, as we prepare this week, to allow him to continue to do that."
Tomlin isn't ready to declare Hodges the starter for the rest of the season, saying it's only a "this week" move. He also made it clear that despite losing the starting job, the future of Mason Rudolph is not vanishing in Pittsburgh.
"It means nothing about our intended plans for the foreseeable future or the trajectory of Mason's career or what-have-you. We're just not in that mentality. We're not in a position to be in that mentality. We're putting pieces together on a week-by-week basis because of the adversity of the game presents. Players being available to us and not being available to us. So, we're singularly focused on winning this game or putting ourselves in a position to win this game. That's where the decision lays. We'll see where the decision lays after this game. Really, we have no intended plans after this one."
Expectations for Hodges this week are simple; "I expect him to not kill us," Tomlin said. At 6-5, facing a Cleveland Browns team fighting for the same playoff seed as Pittsburgh, the Steelers can't afford to take any steps back. Tomlin said this game isn't on Duck, and that the entire team will need to step up to compensate for an offense that's still finding itself.
"Not only in Mason's game, but within our offensive unit, in recent quarters we've been bogged down a little bit. I know a lot of it has to do with player availability, or lack there of, things don't happen in a vacuum. I meant what I said that I thought Devlin just might provide us a spark, it might not necessarily mean anything negative in terms of Mason overall trajectory of his career, or even what he's going to mean to us next week. We're focused on putting ourselves in a position to win this game and we'll work on next week, next week."