PITTSBURGH STEELERS UPDATE 

lHODGES ON NOTICE AND HE KNOWS IT; TEAMMATES REMAIN CONFIDENT

Following up on this week's Team Notes. ... Devlin Hodges will start the regular-season finale for the Steelers with a playoff berth on the line. It will be Hodges’ fifth consecutive start, but he likely wouldn’t be in the lineup if not for a shoulder injury that ended Mason Rudolph's season.

The Steelers benched Hodges on Sunday.

Hodges has thrown interceptions on four of his past five possessions over two games, according to Chris Adamski of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Six of Hodges’ eight interceptions this season have come over the past six quarters he’s played.

“Does it matter?” head coach Mike Tomlin said, via Adamski, when asked whether the interceptions were poor decisions or bad throws. ““You know, seriously, we’ve got to take care of the football. You can make a bad decision – but [with] a ridiculous, awesome throw, it’s irrelevant. You know what I mean? So I mean that in all sincerity – we’ve got take care of the football, and some of that minutiae is less important about intentions relative to performance.”

Hodges has one touchdown, six interceptions and a 41.7 passer rating in his past two games. He threw only two interceptions in his first five NFL appearances, including three starts.

“There’s nothing wrong with his preparation; there’s nothing wrong with his approach and his attitude and things of that nature,” Tomlin said. “But [whether he’ll perform better] won’t get answered until we get into the stadium. I can trick myself in terms of seeking comfort and looking for clues and things of that nature, [but] we are not in that world.”

To be fair, Hodges realizes where's he's at. And where he needs to be.

"I just have to take a step back to how I was playing those first couple of games and taking what the defense gives me," Hodges said. "I have all of the confidence in the world in myself and the guys, and I just have to go out and do it."

Hodges added the past Sunday was his first time being benched and it was "definitely tough."

Still, he says his confidence remains unchanged, and all the peaks and valleys are simply "helping me progress and get better."

It would seem in that aspect that he's following the advice of his teammates. Despite his pitfalls, the quarterback says his Steelers brethren have bestowed upon him some rather simple words of wisdom.

"They have just told me, 'Hey man, still be you. Still be Duck. You have gotten the job done before, we know you can do it,'" Hodges said. "'Just go out there and do it.'"

The team will also have Paxton Lynch available. While he has been inactive for the most part, he will be ready for whatever is asked of him.

“I feel good,” said Lynch. “Whatever they need me to do, I will be ready to do. That is why they brought me here, to help this team win if I was called upon. So that is what I am going to be ready for.”

Lynch has mainly worked with the scout team since signing with the Steelers on Oct. 11, but he has prepared each week like his time could come without a moment’s notice.

“It’s a little harder when you haven’t gotten any reps in the offense, but we are all professionals, so we are all here to do a job and that is my job,” said Lynch. “It’s been good. It’s been a learning experience going up against this defense. Our guys are one of the best defenses in the league, so I take that as an opportunity to get better. That has been my mentality day in and day out, getting better.

“I’ve been preparing like I was going to play each week knowing that I was inactive each week. There were a few weeks that I didn’t know if I was going to get bumped up or not, so I’ve just been preparing week in and week out to play.”

So who helps Hodges be Duck?

JuJu Smith-Schuster returned to action last Sunday after missing four games due to injury.

According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Pittsburgh's slot receiver played a healthy 79 percent of the snaps, but he was limited to a 2-22-0 receiving line on four targets. Smith-Schuster hasn't cleared 7.4 fantasy points in a game since Week 8 and has produced only three weekly finishes better than 34th this season.

Clay went on to advise owners to "Consider Smith-Schuster a poor flex option against Baltimore in Week 17."

Meanwhile, Diontae Johnson has been rock solid over the past three weeks, catching at least five passes in each game, scoring over 20 in two out of three games and seeing an average of eight targets per game. This prompted ESPN's Field Yates to write, "A largely stagnant Steelers passing game gets its best boost from Johnson, who has emerged as a fun playmaker to watch."

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