Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Devlin Hodges regroup versus Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 14: Quarterback Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers fights with defensive end Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 21-7. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 14: Quarterback Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers fights with defensive end Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 21-7. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Mason Rudolph escaped a suspension against the Cleveland Browns, but not a benching from Mike Tomlin, as Devlin Hodges will start against the Browns.

Lost amidst all the crying about Mason Rudolph escaping a suspension by the NFL after his role in the brawl with the Cleveland Browns is the fact that he weakened his standing among his teammates and head coach Mike Tomlin.

So much so that the Steelers had a new quarterback after Rudolph’s bad first half against the pathetic Bengals. Devlin Hodges, an unknown from the Samford Bulldogs, got the win against Cincinnati and now gets the start against the Browns on Sunday.

While fans worried about who started the fight, who did the most damage and who did or did not get punished, there was something else going on between Tomlin and Rudolph. To be blunt, Tomlin was very concerned because his quarterback cracked under pressure.

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You can argue about who started “The Brawl,” but his out-of-control quarterback’s loss of composure contributed to the suspension of Maurkice Pouncey, a seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro center. The loss of Pouncey was keenly felt against the lowly Bengals by halftime. With Cincinnati ahead 7-3, Tomlin had had enough.

With fifteen seconds left in a game that was already lost, Rudolph is going to get an All-Pro center suspended for the next game? Rudolph is not good enough to get away with stupid moves like that, especially if he can then not score against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Have a seat on the bench, Mr. Rudolph. Despite your talent and college credentials, Devlin Hodges is the new starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is an astonishing turn of events, given that Rudolph had started out so well for the Steelers, rallying the team after an 0-2 start with Ben Roethlisberger. This analyst was very high on Rudolph, and was shocked that he lasted until the third round in the 2018 NFL draft.

Until the Cleveland game, Rudolph had been solid, if not spectacular. He had led the Steelers to four wins and two losses at that point. There was a loss to the tough San Francisco 49ers, and an overtime loss to the Ravens, prior to his breakdown against the Browns. That is not horrible.

But the breakdown in discipline evidently angered Tomlin much more than Browns fans might realize. Enter Devlin Hodges, who rescued the Steelers versus the Bengals. They won ugly, 16-10, but they did win after being behind 7-3 at the half.

Jobe Morrison of Still Curtain has expressed the opinion that Rudolph has in fact been regressing in recent weeks and should not start. Tommy Jaggi, also of Still Curtain, concurs. It is especially clear to everyone that he had trouble against the Browns, and so if a move had to be made, this week’s Browns-Steelers matchup is the obvious time to make it.

So who is Devlin Hodges? He played at little Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, which is an FCS school. But he destroyed the FCS in four years with 14,584 passing yards, breaking the all-time FCS yardage record held by Steve “Air” McNair.

Having four years of starting experience is a huge plus. The Browns can testify that guys who skip their senior or even junior year to play in the NFL (Johnny Manziel, DeShone Kizer) are at a huge disadvantage. It probably does not help to start them early and watch them have horrible years. It does not matter much how great they look throwing a spiral pass or even how tough they are in the pocket. They almost always need the right experience to know how to win.

Hodges makes more sense than many higher draft picks with less experience. Names will not be mentioned to protect the guilty teams, but you can look around the league and see teams start rookies with only one or two years college experience, and it is usually disastrous.

The buzz on Hodges is that he is a very accurate passer with high football intelligence and decision making capability. He has an NFL arm, but not outstanding arm strength. In those ways he resembles Rudolph. However, unlike the 6-foot-5, 235 pounds Rudolph, he has less than ideal size at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. His 4.78 second 40-yard dash is nothing to write home about, but he is faster than Rudolph at 4.90 seconds.

Hodges got to play when Rudolph suffered a concussion, and won his only NFL start against the Chargers. He also played against the Ravens and then came in for the second half versus the Bengals. It is a small data sample, but he has looked good.

He has completed 67.5 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and only one interception, and a passer rating of 97.5. By now, however, he has created enough video tape for Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to dial up a game plan against him.

It is one thing to play an opponent that does not know what his weaknesses are, and something else to go up against a defense that is prepared specifically for him. Wilks will have Larry Ogunjobi and Olivier Vernon back, so even without Garrett they have an opportunity to put some pressure on Hodges and perhaps get him to rush his throws.

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Still, Hodges might not be another DeShone Kizer 2.0. He is much more prepared for success and might actually be impressive against the Browns. However, the Steelers may not have a running game because James Conner is still not practicing as of Wednesday. Also, JuJu Smith-Schuster is still not back after suffering a concussion versus the Browns. It might be a long day for the rookie against the Browns.