In more than a few of his recent weekly news conferences at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Coach Mike Tomlin has announced or fielded questions about who would be the starting quarterback for that week's game. That didn't happen at today's news conference, because the answer to the question was obvious. And it became obvious a couple of hours before Tomlin took the podium because that was when the Steelers placed Mason Rudolph on the injured reserve list, a move that ended his season.
With the shoulder injury Rudolph sustained in Sunday's game vs. the Jets making him unavailable, the Steelers have no other realistic choice except to start Devlin Hodges. Paxton Lynch, the only other quarterback currently on the 53-man roster, will serve as Hodges' backup for Sunday's 4:25 p.m. kickoff against the Ravens in Baltimore.
In his last two games, both starts, Hodges completed 34-of-55 (61.8 percent) for 286 yards, with one touchdown, six interceptions, and a rating of 41.74. As expected, Tomlin's issue with Hodges' play has been the number of interceptions. The inability to protect the football was what got Rudolph benched shortly into the second half in Cincinnati when he was replaced by Hodges, and it's what got Hodges benched against the Jets when he was replaced by Rudolph.
"We have to take care of the football," said Tomlin. "You can make a bad decision but a ridiculously awesome throw, and (the decision) is irrelevant. I mean that in all sincerity. We have to take care of the football and some of that minutiae is less important, about intentions relative to performance."
Can Hodges rebound from two sub-par performances in a row? Tomlin honestly doesn't seem to know the answer.
"Some questions get answered in-stadium," said Tomlin. "There's nothing wrong with (Hodges') preparation. There's nothing wrong with his approach, his attitude, and things of that nature. But the questions you're asking don't get answered until we get into the stadium. I can trick myself in terms of seeking comfort and looking for clues and things of that nature, but we're not in that world. We're going to prepare. He's going to prepare. And we're going to put our best foot forward and go and play this game and play it to win."
And as much as fans may want to see Lynch start against the Ravens, or at least see significant playing time against the Ravens, the fact Tomlin said the Steelers are playing the game to win all but eliminates that possibility.
"He's got a lot of pedigree, and that's why he was taken in the first round," said Tomlin about Lynch. "In terms of our intimate knowledge of it, or our comfort with it, is not very high because of the time at which we acquired him and the nature of which you have to work when you're preparing to play games. We acquired him after the season started (signed to the practice squad on Sept. 17 and added to the 53-man roster on Oct. 11), and we had two very young quarterbacks (Rudolph and Hodges) in front of him. We've been very thoughtful about making sure that they've gotten a significant number of reps in terms of overall readiness. We're going to work Paxton some this week, but what he's done to this point does not provide a great deal of comfort for him or for us because of the variables I just mentioned."
Also today, the Steelers signed former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett to the practice squad.
TOMLIN'S IN JURY UPDATE
"From an injury standpoint, we had several guys who probably can be characterized as out, or dealing with some injury. Mason Rudolph, as you know, will be out. He was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury sustained in-game. Maurkice Pouncey is out with a knee injury. James Conner's availability is very much in question with a quadriceps injury. He's being evaluated and treated. We'll know about his availability as we push through the week. Practice participation being an element of it, and then overall effectiveness in being able to protect and defend himself and the football. We've been in those waters before, and it's been a tough year for him and for us in that regard. But we are familiar with the procedure, and we will go through that procedure as we ready ourselves for this game."