(KDKA)- With two weeks left in the regular season, the Steelers path to the playoffs is clear. Either win out or win one of the next two and hope that Tennessee loses to Houston in Week 17. There are more convoluted scenarios if the team were to lose each of their next two, but that would involve a lot of things falling the Steelers way.
So, entering this Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets, the team is basically in must-win mode, particularly with a Week 17 matchup against the Ravens looming. As they have for the past five weeks, the team will start Devlin “Duck” Hodges at quarterback. The decision comes despite Hodges throwing four interceptions in the team’s loss to the Bills on Sunday night. According to NFL On CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn, there are a couple of reasons why he believes Coach Tomlin has chosen to stick with the man they call Duck.
“There is multiple layers to it. It’s similar to what they did with Mason Rudolph, where a young quarterback who has had some success and then has a challenging game, as Rudolph did in that Cleveland game, they’re going to give him a chance to see how he responds,” said Washburn. “They’re not going to just pull the cord on him after the regression game. They are going to see how he responds. That is probably the primary reason.”
“But also, from being around him a number of times this year, there is a lot of belief in what Duck can do because of his confidence,” continued Washburn. “I’ll be curious how he comes into this game, because this is his first real adversity that he has faced other than trying to make this team as a fourth-stringer.”
Confidence is needed in large quantities for a player in Hodges’ situation coming into the season. An undrafted free agent out of Samford, he attempted to make the team in training camp from the fourth-string QB spot. While he didn’t clear the cuts originally, he was brought back following the trade of Josh Dobbs and injury to Big Ben. Now he has started five games and played well enough to win four of them. But, for as good as Hodges has been managing the game, Washburn says the team needs to get back to more of the running game this week.
“The way I see it and having listened to a lot of the comments coming out of that Steelers locker room and out of that building, they want to value the ball. Let the defenses make plays, and it really comes down to running the ball more effectively too,” said Washburn. “They seemed to get very pass-happy in that Buffalo game, part of that is due to the score and where they found themselves at times, but their strength is running the ball and not forcing Duck Hodges to do too much from the quarterback position. Then, let their defense really carry the way.”
That may be easier said than done against a Jets defense that allows the fewest yards per carry in the league (3.3) and the second-fewest yards per game (88.8). The Steelers did get running back James Conner back from injury last week, but he carried the ball just eight times for 42 yards. Pittsburgh will need more out of him than that going up against a Jets defense led by Gregg Williams, who is known for getting after young quarterbacks with pressure.
“Gregg Williams is known as a guy who can blitz and really cause fits for young, inexperienced signal callers,” said Washburn. “I would expect that to be a big part of what the Jets will do against Pittsburgh. That is probably the only area that they have a supreme edge.”
The Steelers offensive line has been strong this season allowing just 26 sacks in their 14 games, so Hodges should be well protected. With a playoff berth in the balance, the Steelers need a win to get one step closer. The oddsmakers believe they’ll get it, as the Steelers are three-point favorites.
Kick off for Sunday’s game is set for 1:00 p.m. EST on CBS.