The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense has opened up since Devlin "Duck" Hodges took over under center. Splash plays we'd become accustomed to have returned, and the disastrous sacks and turnovers have mostly dissipated.
In last week's win over Cleveland, Hodges divebombed the Browns with four deep shots that compiled 133 yards, a TD and an INT. For the season -- two starts and two relief appearances -- Hodges has gone 5-of-9 passing on deep passes, for 23.6 yards per attempt, 2-2 TD-INT ratio and a 100.5 passer rating. For comparison, Mason Rudolph and Ben Roethlisberger combined for 5-of-43 passing on deep shots, with 7.0 yards per attempt, 2-2 TD-INT ratio and a 52.4 passer rating.
"Whenever a play is called I'm going to be who I am," Hodges said, via the team's official website. "I'm going to be aggressive.
"I know there are certain times you have to be smart with the football but I'm a gunslinger, I've always been a gunslinger and that's just what I'm gonna do."
The biggest difference between Hodges and Rudolph is that Duck seems to trust what he sees more than Rudolph. Where the latter tended to hold the ball, inviting pressure, Hodges sees the opening and gets the ball out much faster. Hodges is also the superior QB at navigating a muddy pocket. Sure, the Steelers offense still relies heavily on checkdowns, but at least Hodges gets there more quickly, giving his pass-catchers time to pick up YAC.
Despite averaging a similar time to throw as Rudolph, Hodges has been pressured at a much lower rate, and attempts passes into tight windows less frequently, per Next Gen Stats. Hodges has been pressured on 15.6 percent of dropbacks this season, while Rudolph invited an NFL-high 45.1 percent.
Hodges considers himself a gunslinger on the field, and his off-field gun usage in duck hunting has provided the rookie QB a persona that Steelers fans have taken to in a short time.
"It's cool, it's unique and it's something I can kinda sit back and laugh about," he said. "It just goes back to being who I am, being the person I am. I'm a laid-back guy. I like to come in each and every day, be prepared and have fun.
"This is football. This is my job. At the same time there's a good balance you can have with having fun and getting prepared and ready for the game."
Sunday's tilt versus the Arizona Cardinals affords Hodges another opportunity to build on his positive performances. The Cards have allowed a league-worst 113.5 opponent passer rating. Since Week 8, Arizona's D ranks last in the NFL in points per game allowed (31.8), total YPG (473.8), pass YPG (369.4), comp percent (72.9) and passer rating (111.0).