Mike Tomlin

Steelers' QB controversy could improve Raiders' NFL playoff odds

Steelers' QB controversy could improve Raiders' NFL playoff odds

Very little went right for the Raiders In Week 12. Tuesday might have been a different story, but that depends on your opinion of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.

As things currently stand, Oakland is on the outside of the AFC playoff picture looking in after getting housed by the Jets on Sunday. At 6-5, the Raiders occupy the seventh seed in the conference. The team directly above them, with an identical record? Pittsburgh.

The Steelers might not currently be in playoff position if not for a quarterback switch they made midway through their Week 12 win over the Bengals. Rudolph had been terrible against the Browns in the Steelers' Week 11 loss, and he wasn't any better against Cincinnati, going 8-for-18 for 85 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception in the first half. When Pittsburgh emerged from halftime trailing 7-3, coach Mike Tomlin made the move to put rookie QB Devlin Hodges under center.

The decision paid off, as Hodges led the Steelers to a 16-10 comeback road win. It came as little surprise then when Tomlin announced Tuesday that Hodges would start in Week 13 against the Browns.

So, is Pittsburgh's quarterback switch a good thing or a bad thing for the Raiders?

[RELATED: Raiders can overcome Jets debacle by learning from past]

Considering Hodges went undrafted and has accomplished more as a duck-caller than as a quarterback, it seems like a positive for the Raiders. Hodges doesn't exactly have a background that would incline one to believe he will take the job and run with it. Rudolph has the better pedigree and was a third-round pick, and with Ben Roethlisberger in the twilight of his career, it would make sense if Pittsburgh gave him another shot. While Hodges will start in Week 13, Tomlin made no guarantees beyond that.

After Week 13, three of Pittsburgh's four remaining games are on the road, and that's never an easy environment for a rookie QB. Is Hodges better than Rudolph? Maybe, but that doesn't appear to be a very high bar. The Steelers aren't the only team the Raiders are competing with for a playoff spot, but at least right now, they would appear to be the most vulnerable.

49ers' talented group of pass rushers impresses Steelers' Mike Tomlin

49ers' talented group of pass rushers impresses Steelers' Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has led his team to the playoffs in seven of his previous 12 seasons.

If he can somehow make it eight in 13 years, it likely will rank as his finest coaching achievement -- even for a man who has a Super Bowl ring.

“I do enjoy the challenges and the adversity that the game presents,” Tomlin said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “So from that standpoint, it does create a sense of urgency that’s a good fuel.”

The Steelers are 0-2, and they lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to season-ending elbow surgery. Second-year pro Mason Rudolph takes over as the Steelers’ starting quarterback, and he will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the 2-0 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

“From mental preparation standpoint, I think one of the reasons we have a great deal of comfort and he has a great deal of comfort is because he’s always approached each day as if he’s the starter and has brought that level of urgency to his preparation,” Tomlin said of Rudolph. “That’s just mental preparation, the process that he goes through on Monday and Tuesday in terms of laying the foundation.”

Rudolph and the Steelers have plenty to study this week as they prepare to face an invigorated 49ers defense that appears vastly improved from the unit that last season generated only seven takeaways, including two interceptions, in 16 games. Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon returned interceptions for touchdowns in the opening-week win over Tampa Bay.

“First of all, they’re creating a great deal of negativity on defense,” Tomlin said. “They’re getting turnovers and scoring points. Boy, that makes you a tough outfit to beat.”

The 49ers have already registered four interceptions. Robert Saleh's defense also has forced four fumbles, recovering one of them. In addition, the 49ers have rotated nine defensive linemen and generated seven quarterback sacks through two games.

“I just like they way they use a large number of people,” Tomlin said. “They got a great rotation and everybody’s productive and fresh and playing hard. That’s one of the key attributes of what they do systematically defensive. It’s no different than when we played Seattle a week ago, and they run a bunch of defensive linemen at you.

“The 4-3 teams that generate rush with those guys primarily have to play a lot of people, and they need all those guys to be productive in order to play great, and obviously they’re playing great at this point.”

[RELATED: Why didn't the Steelers look into signing Colin Kaepernick?]

Six different 49ers defensive linemen have combined for the seven sacks, led by Arik Armstead with two in two games. Nick Bosa has one sack and has produced 10 quarterback pressures, which ranks tops among all NFL rookies, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s been in some good situations,” Tomlin said. “They’ve been in some good situations being up in their football games and his talents are able to show. I got a lot of respect for him as a rusher, and I have a lot of respect for them as rushers. Not only the talented individuals within the group, but how they work collectively together, Dee Ford, and everyone else.”

Mike Tomlin won't address if Steelers considered QB Colin Kaepernick

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USATSI

Mike Tomlin won't address if Steelers considered QB Colin Kaepernick

After the Pittsburgh Steelers lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season, they acted quickly Monday to add one quarterback to the active roster and another to the practice squad.

Mason Rudolph, a third-round draft pick, takes over as the starter, beginning Sunday against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, it seems, never was under serious consideration.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was asked Monday if the organization contacted Kaepernick after learning that Roethlisberger would require season-ending surgery on his elbow. Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since 2016, but his résumé is more impressive than either rookie backup Devlin Hodges or Paxton Lynch, the club’s newest addition to the practice squad.

“Hey guys, I went through the process that we went through in terms of our decision making,” Tomlin said during a press conference Monday. “We went with Hodges because he’s been a significant component of our offseason and training camp; and for short term fluidity, we thought that was the best.

“And we acquired Paxton Lynch because he is practice squad eligible and we can bring him up to speed and evaluate him without utilizing a roster spot. I’m not talking openly about free agents that aren’t on our roster. That conversation could go on for days and be endless. There’s a number of people at the quarterback position and others that are unemployed in today’s NFL. I’m not going to use this forum to do that.”

[RELATED: Why Steelers need to do what's right: sign Colin Kaepernick]

Kaepernick has been the center of a national controversy since he chose to kneel during the playing of the national anthem during the 2016 season as a way to protest racial inequality.

In February, the NFL reached settlements with Kaepernick and former 49ers safety Eric Reid on their collusion grievances. Reid remains in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.

Kaepernick, 31, played six seasons with the 49ers. He appeared in 69 games with 58 starts. Kaepernick is a 59.8 percent career passer with 12,271 yards, 72 touchdowns and 30 interceptions and has a career passer rating of 88.9. He also rushed for 2,300 yards.