There shouldn’t be this much hope for a team who’s on the verge of removing themselves from postseason contention every week. The Steelers are fighting a battle that will last the remainder of the season, but don’t seem worried.
Even with Hodges at quarterback, the offense hasn’t batted an eye. JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and even Duck himself have spoken of many things, but never have they mentioned how they’re worried about the season.
Mason Rudolph struggled to get the ball moving through the air. The second-year quarterback wasn’t comfortable taking chances down the field, while Hodges’ career suggests he’s never been afraid to take risks. If he lets his fly in Week 6, these three players should benefit from the third-string quarterback.
It took a third-string quarterback to get JuJu Smith-Schuster moving in the right direction. His first season as the number one receiver has been tough. Despite leading the team in receiving yards, Smith-Schuster has only accumulated 333 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season.
Rudolph’s comfort with underneath passing routes holstered Smith-Schuster. He’s dealing with double-teams most plays, making it difficult to get open before Rudolph is looking to throw the ball.
Hodges is a different story. If Duck decides to open up the field and take chances, Smith-Schuster will be the first player to benefit.
A third-string quarterback will be looking in the direction of his top receiver on every play. There will be a level of comfort that Smith-Schuster provides for Hodges, and he should be able to take advantage of it.
The Steelers’ running game has been nothing special this season. Outside of a successful use of the wildcat against Cincinnati, James Conner has struggled to run the ball between the tackles.
That can change with Hodges. Defenses were able to stack the box with Rudolph at quarterback. Without any real threat of a deep pass, teams could play the short field, making it easy to defend the run.
If Hodges brings his confidence to Los Angeles, he’ll start slinging the ball around. That’ll force the Chargers to step back, giving Conner more lanes to run through.
It’s hard to imagine a Pro Bowl running back has downgraded this much. There are outside factors to Conner’s struggles in 2019, which could change with a more open offense behind Hodges.
If the Steelers do let it fly with Duck, the underneath game will become much more effective. This benefits Vance McDonald.
In Rudolph’s first game on the field, McDonald caught two touchdown passes. This wasn’t because of Rudolph’s play, but rather Ben Roethlisberger’s. The defense wasn’t prepared for short routes after Roethlisberger was in the game. By still investing in more open routes, it freed up the middle of the field for McDonald.
This could be the case if Hodges is spreading the ball around. A strong tight end is always a reliable option for a backup quarterback. A much more difficult task when your QB throws to the middle of the field on most downs, but that may not be the case for a more confident Duck Hodges.