Some may suggest that Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges was due for a bad game. Steelers’ offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has had more bad games than good this season but making sure Duck wasn’t put into bad spots was thought to be goal number one. What happened in the 17-10 loss to Buffalo was a perfect storm of a really good defense, a rookie with plenty of tape and a coordinator who struggles on a weekly basis.
Duck Hodges entered the game against the Bills with four touchdown passes and two interceptions. His quarterback rating was actually higher than the league average and there are reasons for that. Until Sunday night, Hodges has largely been able to play with a lead or at least be within a few points. His running game was decent and the defense had been its terrific self. Most importantly, Fichtner had designed his offense to keep as little pressure as possible on Hodges. THAT my friends is the first thing that went into the toilet against the Bills.
Why oh why would Fichtner throw as often as he did? Buffalo possessed the third best defense and third best pass defense in the league but their run defense was middle of the road. Was this Fichtner doing his best ‘Todd Haley impersonation?’ You know? The one where he tries to prove he’s smarter than everyone else by doing the EXACT opposite of what should be done? No one, myself included, expected the Steelers to run for a ton of yardage but why depend so much on Duck when you really didn’t have to?
Hodges’ four picks were absolutely on him. He threw behind Diontae Johnson, underthrew James Washington and his two end zone interceptions were, well, just awful. But should he have been put in those situations in the first place? Fichtner seemed to have forgotten that Ben Roethlisberger was standing next to him and wasn’t on the field. Five-wide? Are you serious? You can do that with a veteran QB because he already knows where he’s going before the snap and can immediately adjust if necessary. A rookie QB though? Forget it.
Let us also not forget that Duck was without Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Schuster. At times I thought he was without Johnson too as little as he was targeted. Again, why was Fichtner not getting the ball to arguably his best playmaker on the field? I admit he did try on an ill-fated ‘wildcat’ play in the Buffalo red zone which ended with a fumble and took at least three points off the board. The wildcat by the way looked as though it had been installed ten minutes before the game. It never looked comfortable and the poor exchange on the turnover was proof. While some could argue that was a lack of execution and to a degree it was, I would argue it was completely unnecessary especially since the offensive line had been penetrated so easily. Fichtner and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett seemingly had no answer for the Bills’ pass rush either. Time and time again defenders came free whether off the edge or up the gut. If they were trying to adjust I sure couldn’t see it.
Let us not make a mountain out of a mole hill here though. Buffalo is a solid team and Duck Hodges was due to have some hiccups. The problem as it turned out was that his hiccups weren’t all on him. He was given a poor diet to start with and it didn’t get any better as the game wore on.
Image courtesy 93.7 The Fan