CINCINNATI — Mike Tomlin had simply seen enough. His team needed a spark.
Those were the reason the Steelers head coach decided to bench Mason Rudolph, his second-year quarterback and make the change to rookie Devlin Hodges in the third quarter of what became a 16-10 Steelers victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
“Just felt like our offense needed a spark,” Tomlin said at his post-game press conference. “Mason wasn’t doing enough. Duck came in and provides us with a spark. Made a couple plays.”
Duck is, of course, the nicknamed bestowed upon Hodges when he arrived a on a tryout at the Steelers facility as an undrafted rookie out of Samford this spring. He’s played in three games now this season, but perhaps none more impactful than Sunday, when he led the Steelers from behind for a victory over the Bengals that seems essential in them remaining in the playoff chase.
Hodges was front and center in the victory, hitting James Washington for a 79-yard touchdown on his third pass attempt that proved vital to the Steelers’ comeback effort.
“I looked pretty smart, didn’t I?” Tomlin joked.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 24, 2019
Tomlin said that he didn’t come into the game thinking that he might remove Rudolph if he didn’t get out to a better start after a four-interception game against Cleveland the previous week and that he was simply reacting to the situation as it unfolded in front of him.
“I don’t prepare for failure in that way,” he said. “I don’t. I prepare for success. Like you guys hear me say all the time, I’ve always got a hardcore plan, but I’m light on my feet in case necessary adjustments are made in any element of play.”
So Tomlin did not come into the game planning to make a switch at the quarterback position, and he isn’t tipping his hand about his plans for next week’s rematch with the Browns, either.
“I may have [a plan] as I stand here right now, but I’m not going to share it with you guys,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see what next week holds next week, but I like the contributions of Duck, I like his readiness. I appreciate the efforts of Mason and I also appreciate the support of Mason after we made the changes.”
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20
While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.
Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.
Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start
To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.
He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.
The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.
“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”
Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.
Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.
“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”
All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.
His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.
Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.
Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.
“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”
If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20
David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.
Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers