Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

In Duck they trust.

How bad are things for the Steelers? They will have their second quarterback make his NFL debut as a starter in the first six weeks of the season when they face the Chargers in Los Angeles tonight.

Since the merger in 1970, that’s happened 11 times. Of course, eight of those other 11 situations happened during the 1987 strike season, so they really don’t count.

Yeah, that’s not good. And the Steelers are 4-20-1 in their history when they have a quarterback making his debut as a starter, including Mason Rudolph earlier this season when they lost 24-20 to San Francisco.

At least the Steelers are used to it at this point.

And maybe they learned a little something from that start. At the very least, maybe they’ll let Hodges throw the ball downfield more than they allowed Rudolph in his debut, when he threw the majority of his passes horizontally.

It also wouldn’t hurt allowing James Conner to get more involved. Conner hasn’t had more than the 14 carries for 55 yards he had last week against the Baltimore Ravens. That’s just not enough. He’s on pace for 621 rushing yards, which would be the fewest for a Steelers leading rusher since Jonathan Dwyer had 623 yards in 2012.

  • Can the Steelers win with Hodges?

His offensive coordinator at Samford, Russ Callaway, sure thinks so.

“He was the best player in FCS history,” Callaway said this week. “We were shocked when he wasn’t drafted.”

Hodges won the Walter Payton Award last season as the top player in FCS and broke Steve McNair’s all-time passing yardage record at that level. He threw for approximately 8.3 miles in college.

  • On the downside, even though the Dignity Health Sports Park, where the Chargers play their home games, seats only 27,000, that’s massive compared to what Hodges was accustomed to at Samford.

Seibert Stadium, where Samford plays its home games, has a seating capacity of 6,700.

  • On the plus side, the Chargers, who are playing there while waiting for the Rams’ stadium complex, where they also will play, is completed, are just 5-5 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
  • It doesn’t matter what other names emerge as the next potential manager of the Pirates. The next manager is going to be former Rangers manager Jeff Bannister.

A former player for the team, Bannister, 55, cut his teeth as a manager in the Pirates’ farm system and was brought back in January as a special assistant. The idea all along was that he’d be the eventual replacement for Clint Hurdle.

Bannister, the 2015 AL Manager of the Year, was 325-313 in four seasons with the Rangers, leading them to the postseason twice.

More importantly than anything else, Bannister wants the job.

This week’s picks

Steelers (plus 7) at Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are even more banged up than the Steelers. The only difference is that they haven’t lost their quarterback. So, we’ll have Philip Rivers, with 213 career starts, against Hodges, who will be in his first. The Steelers have to run the ball in this game. And they will try. Their defense is one of the best in the league, and that will keep them in this game. Plus, rookie quarterbacks are 7-0 against the spread this season. Take the Steelers to cover in a 20-17 loss

Baltimore (minus 10½) over Cincinnati: This is the kind of game the Ravens dominate. They’re at home and the Bengals will struggle to control the Baltimore offense. The Bengals will move the ball, so this is a sneaky high-scoring game. Take the Ravens, 31-20

Seattle (minus 1½) over Cleveland: The Browns played Monday night in San Francisco, which means they didn’t get back to Cleveland until about 6 a.m. Tuesday. And Seattle isn’t an opponent they see much of, playing them once every four years. The Seahawks also had extra time to prepare for this game, having last played on a Thursday night. Not good. Take the Seahawks, 27-21

Washington (minus 3½) over Miami: I realize the Redskins are winless, but the Dolphins have been outscored 163-26. That works out to an average score of 40-6 each week. Think about that. A change in head coaches will revitalize the Redskins. And they’ll lean hard on Adrian Peterson. Take the Redskins, 27-13

Houston (plus 4 ½) over Kansas City: Patrick Mahomes is playing on a bad ankle, which affects everything the Chiefs do. Tyreek Hill should be back this week and the Texans don’t play a lot of defense, either. This should be a track meet. But the Texans should keep it close. Take the Texans to cover in a 34-31 loss.

Last Week 5-0. Overall 16-8

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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