Sheldon Richardson and the rest of the Browns‘ defense won’t be happy when they learn what the Steelers announced on Tuesday: Mason Rudolph has officially been benched for Devlin Hodges before their Week 13 rematch.
With five days remaining until the Browns and Steelers meet in Pittsburgh for a game that holds huge wild-card implications — not to mention, plenty of intrigue after the way their last meeting ended only two weeks ago — the Steelers have apparently finally realized that Hodges is a better option than Rudolph, simply because he’s been able to avoid the kind of backbreaking mistakes that have come to define Rudolph’s season. When Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked why he made the switch to Hodges, he told reporters, “He has not killed us.”
That’s not exactly the highest bar for quarterback play, but Tomlin isn’t wrong. Since taking over for Ben Roethlisberger, Rudolph has thrown nine interceptions in nine total appearances. Put another way, he’s been picked off on 3.4 percent of his pass attempts. Only five quarterbacks own a higher interception percentage. He also leads the team in fumbles with four.
The last time Rudolph faced the Browns, he was picked off four times, took four sacks, and fumbled once. The way the game ended — with Rudolph taking issue with a Myles Garrett hit, a fracas ensuing, and — overshadowed just how poorly Rudolph played in that game, a 14-point Browns win. Which is why Richardson said on Sunday that he hoped the Steelers stuck with Rudolph as their starter even after they yanked him for Hodges midway through their win over the Bengals on Sunday.
It’s not like Hodges, an undrafted rookie, has been light years better than Rudolph, a 2018 third-round pick, but he has turned the ball over at a lower clip (an interception percentage of 2.5 percent). After replacing Rudolph on Sunday, Hodges immediately connected with James Washington for a 79-yard touchdown. Thirteen of the Steelers’ 16 points in a six-point win came with Hodges as their quarterback.
With the win, the 6-5 Steelers now occupy the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. According to SportsLine’s Stephen Oh, they have a 38.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. And if the Steelers beat the 5-6 Browns, their odds will jump to 58 percent and they’ll cause the Browns’ playoff odds to drop to four percent. But if the Steelers lose to the Browns, their playoff odds will sink to 16 percent and the Browns’ odds will leap from 17.1 percent to 31 percent. That’s why this game will have the feel of a playoff game. The winner will see their playoff chances improve substantially. And the loser will suddenly be on life support.
And that’s even without factoring in how their last meeting ended. With Rudolph now set to spend the game on the sidelines, this game won’t include the vast majority of the players who were involved in that fracas two weeks ago. Garrett, Maurkice Pouncey, who punched and kicked Garrett repeatedly after seeing Garrett hit Rudolph with his helmet, will also be out as he serves the final game of what will end up being a two-game suspension. But Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who was suspended one game for shoving Rudolph during the incident, will be available. So will Richardson, who said immediately after the game that, is Steelers center
All of this is just a long-winded way of saying that this game doesn’t lack intrigue, even though Rudolph, Garrett, and Pouncey all won’t play. In the AFC, there are five teams sitting at either 6-5 and 5-6. On Sunday, two of them will face each other in a game that’ll have a severe effect on the playoff picture.