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Opponent preview: Devlin “Duck” Hodges

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A preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-string quarterback Duck Hodges

The Pittsburgh Steelers started their season with three straight losses, with a lot of the blame going to Ben Roethlisberger for having the audacity to be injured. After that slow start though, Mike Tomlin has rallied his team to an 8-5 record on the back of a cautious offense and stout defense. With Pittsburgh at the heels of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC playoff race, it’d be great if the Steelers didn’t get a win on Sunday. What should we expect from their third starting quarterback of the year?


Play 1

If you’re a stat scourer, Devlin Hodges’s completion percentage in games pops out. In three games, Hodges has never fallen below 66%. There are two primary reasons for this. First, he doesn’t throw a lot of passes. Hodges hasn’t attempted more than 21 in a game yet. More importantly, Mike Tomlin and his staff can coach a heck of a game.

For Devlin Hodges, the Steelers like to create route combinations that pull the defense away from the middle of the field. Then a quick pitch-and-catch can get some easy chunk yards. Now on this play, the San Diego Chargers are giving up some of the field as it’s third and long, but it’s a credit to the play design that they nearly convert on a safety valve variety of throw.

Play 2

What would the Steelers do for Hodges if it wasn’t third and long? Pretty much the same thing. The routes aren’t quite as simple, but they have the same basic idea: Pull defenders away from the play and allow for an easy pitch and catch.

Play 3

That isn’t to say Hodges can’t do a little more. I came away pretty impressed by his deep ball. Placement is typically quite good. The Steelers aren’t shy about calling these either. Buffalo should expect Hodges to take a few shots. Hodges likes to see his target open, but will sometimes throw into tight coverage (like here) or even double coverage.

Play 4

Usually we use a few more GIFs to illustrate our points (we have one more to go), but for the Pittsburgh offense, their strategy is easy to see. While they do use multiple play calls and mix it up quite frequently, most of their passing plays are all the same general idea. Have most of the receivers clear space and create an easy throw for Hodges.

Play 5

Another benefit of the strategy is that there’s lots of room to run if the defense vacates the middle of the field. Hodges doesn’t often look to scramble and there’s a low amount of called runs. However, when it happens, he’s often getting yards.


Summary

There’s not much to the story for Devlin Hodges. His deep ball can hurt a team, and it’s likely they’ll try a few. Quick and easy passes near the line of scrimmage are the bread and butter of the Pittsburgh offense though and the Buffalo Bills will need to scheme to keep a defender or two in the middle of the field.

Interceptions and sacks usually come due to pressure. Some sacks also had Hodges holding the ball a bit too long as he didn’t see anything he liked.

The Bills could translate some of their success against Baltimore for this game. Shutting down the run game and maintaining a presence in the middle of the field and near the line of scrimmage should be pretty effective. While there is some risk of the deep ball, this risk is present virtually no matter what the defense tries.

For those who enjoy a deep dive into my film notes:
Devlin Hodges notes.pdf