Even if the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make the playoffs the fact that they’re even in the hunt on the final day of the 2019 season is astounding. The year started with a huge blow as starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the year after a Week 2 elbow injury. Backup Mason Rudolph took over and played well before he was injured as well. That leaves rookie Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges out of FCS Samford University as the starter. Hodges has played reasonably well so far but he’s still very green and very limited. In many ways, this season has been one of Mike Tomlin’s best coaching jobs for the simple fact that the Steelers kept fighting when many teams would have quit on the year.
In theory, the Steelers have a decent chance as they travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. The Ravens have already clinched the league’s best record and will be resting most of their key starters. A number have already been ruled out including presumptive NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, DT Brandon Williams, guard Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas III and running back Mark Ingram. Robert Griffin III will be the starting quarterback and there’s a strong probability that other Ravens’ starters will be held out of the contest. Unfortunately for the Steelers, they no longer control their own playoff destiny after back to back losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. They’ll need to beat Baltimore and the Tennessee Titans have to lose to Houston for Pittsburgh to make it in as the #6 playoff seed.
Pittsburgh won’t have an easy time here even facing RGIII and the Ravens’ reserves. The Steelers have injury issues of their own with center Maurkice Pouncey out of the lineup. Running back James Conner is listed as ‘questionable’ though he was unable to practice on Wednesday after suffering a thigh injury against the Jets. On Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin made it sound like Conner was more ‘doubtful’ than ‘questionable’ when he said that the running back’s status was ‘very much in question’. There’s also zero depth at the quarterback position now that Mason Rudolph has joined Ben Roethlisberger on the IR list. Hodges will have Paxton Lynch as a backup.
Even before the injuries hit the Steelers offense was ‘dead in the water’. The decline in offense during the second half of the season has been precipitous. Pittsburgh averaged 22 PPG for the first 8 games of the season but that average has dropped to 14.7 in the second half. They scored only 10 points in each of their two previous games. It’s hard to imagine ‘Duck’ Hodges reviving the offense and particularly if RB Conner can’t go. The unfortunate reality for Pittsburgh is that RGIII is significantly better than any of the Steelers’ options at quarterback.
Even though the Ravens can’t improve their playoff seeding they’re playing to become the first team in NFL history to average 200 yards per game passing and rushing in a season. Right now they’re at 209 YPG passing and 204 YPG rushing. Besides, it’s not like a John Harbaugh coached team will ‘phone it in’ just because they’re resting starters. That’s how Harbaugh has covered over 67% of the time in preseason with a ridiculous 31-15 ATS record. RG III is signed through the 2020 season but he’s just 29 years old. This is a ‘showcase’ game for him and a strong showing here could revive interest in him as a starter from other teams in the league. Ravens opened -2.5 but the line is now Steelers -2 across the board. Baltimore wins by double digits even though we just need them to win outright to cash a ticket.