Pittsburgh, PA (KDKA)- It was ugly, but the Steelers avoided a loss to the dreadful Cincinnati Bengals on the road Sunday, pulling out a 16-10 win and moving into the final AFC Wild Card spot as a result.
The win came in spite of another rough performance for Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, who completed just eight of his 16 pass attempts for 85 yards and an interception before being benched in favor of backup Devlin Hodges. Hodges was by no means spectacular, attempting just 11 passes and completing five. But he did provide the biggest play of the game with a perfectly thrown deep ball to James Washington, who did the rest on a 79-yard touchdown. And, after the explosive play, he led the Steelers on two more field goal drives that were the difference in the final score.
Mike Tomlin says starting Hodges this week is all about trying to do what’s best to win this game. It Does NOT Reflect Mason Rudolph’s long-term future. Or likely Hodges. #WeekToWeek
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) November 26, 2019
Putting up 16 points against arguably the NFL’s worst defense is nothing to celebrate. But, the Steelers were short-handed due to injuries, with James Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster missing the game and center Maurkice Pouncey suspended for his role in the fight with the Browns. So, some offensive struggles were to be expected. But, of Rudolph’s six drives, three were three-and-outs, and the longest drive he engineered ended in an interception.
With Hodges leading the way to a win, the question for the Steelers heading into a Week 13 rematch with the Cleveland Browns is, should he get the start over Rudolph? On Tuesday, the Steelers announced they would be starting Hodges.
“No doubt. He came in, and they moved right down the field,” said The NFL Today analyst Nate Burleson. “The thing with him is, he has a certain calm about him that I think extends to the rest of the team as well.”
The calm that Hodges instilled was evident in how the Steelers were able to move the football with him under center. Though they scored just 13 points, they managed 197 yards on six drives not including the end-of-game sequence that featured two Benny Snell runs and two kneel-downs. On Rudolph’s six drives, the team managed only 149 yards and three points. Furthermore, Rudolph’s performance last time out against the Browns was… not ideal.
“One of the things that went unnoticed, I think, with Mason Rudolph in that last Browns game, and this is not to say Rudolph is a bad player or continue to pile on him, that’s not what I’m trying to do. He threw four interceptions in that game,” said Burleson. “He was playing terribly prior to that incident. He had another interception against the Bengals before getting benched. That is five interceptions in two weeks. One thing about Devlin Hodges, we know he will take some risks here and there, but he is mostly going to take care of the football.”
The five interceptions in the last two games nearly matches the number that Rudolph threw over his first seven games this season. The Browns are still in the playoff hunt as well, currently just one game behind the Steelers at 5-6 on the year. And, Burleson points out, they’re playing their best football of the season.
“It’s going to be a great matchup, it is always intense between these two teams. But I do expect the Browns to come in and play well. They are catching their rhythm as of late,” said Burleson. “I know that Sunday’s performance was against the Miami Dolphins, but Odell Beckham got going, Jarvis Landry was doing big things on Sunday, and Nick Chubb has been consistent on the ground. Browns come in with some rhythm, and I would expect them to play a strong game.”
It’s true that Cleveland’s 47-point outburst came against a bad Dolphins defense, but the Steelers managed just 27 points against that exact same Miami squad back in Week 8. Burleson mentioned the play of Landry, the 27-year-old receiver, has been stellar of late with 29 catches for 339 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games. Big-ticket off-season acquisition Odell Beckham Jr. hasn’t had the same level of touchdown production, but he has been nearly as dangerous. OBJ has surpassed 50 receiving yards in each of his last six games, totaling 441 yards on 31 catches.
The Steelers defense did hold Chubb to just 3.4 yards per carry in the last outing, while Beckham and Landry combined for eight catches, 103 yards and a score. Another loss to the Browns would put Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes in perilous position, as Cleveland would hold the tiebreaker over them were the teams to finish with identical records. The early line has the Browns as a one-point favorite entering Heinz Field this weekend despite being the road team.
The latest edition of the rivalry kicks off at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.