OWINGS MILLS, Maryland – Often quick with a joke or a one-line zinger, Baltimore Ravens Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale knows full well who will be the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback on Sunday: undrafted rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
“In Carroll County, they told me it was duck season on December 16,” Martindale said at his press conference Thursday. “So we’ll see what happens. “
Martindale has his facts clear. In Carroll County and the rest of Maryland, duck hunting is permitted between December 16 and January 31. And Martindale is hoping his defense can knock down a Duck a few times in the regular season finale for both teams.
The Ravens (13-2) clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs last week, so Sunday’s game doesn’t matter in terms of playoff positioning. Several key players will not compete for rest, according to coach John Harbaugh. Still, Harbaugh, Martindale and other staff said Baltimore will be fully focused on winning Pittsburgh (8-7) and securing a franchise-record 14th win.
Ravens fans might also like the idea of dealing a serious blow to the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
So Martindale has spent some time this week studying Hodges, who is 3-2 as a starter for Pittsburgh this season. A Samford product, Hodges started the year on the practice squad before injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph prompted him to act; he completed 67.4 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns on eight interceptions.
And Baltimore has good reason to prepare for the offense Pittsburgh has built around Hodges, even beyond the relatively low stakes for the team this week.
The Steelers are one of six possible opponents the Ravens could see in the divisional round of the playoffs.
To find the trends and habits Pittsburgh could show on Sunday, Martindale said he didn’t just look at the first Ravens-Steelers meeting of this season – a 26-23 overtime win for Baltimore in which Rudolph and Hodges played at quarterback. Ravens staff have also watched movies from previous games in the rivalry Roethlisberger missed.
Martindale said he found himself watching footage of Byron Leftwich and Michael Vick backups starting games for the Steelers.
“Anytime Ben hasn’t played,” Martindale said.
The idea is for Pittsburgh’s offensive staff to conjure up creative ways to move the ball whenever Roethlisberger, six-time Pro Bowler with a unique skill set, is injured. Martindale wants to be ready for them.
Since Roethlisberger underwent elbow surgery in September, the Steelers have used Wildcat formations in which they line up a running back behind center. It fits with the trend Martindale found in rethinking Pittsburgh’s past game plans without Roethlisberger.
“They’re going to do the Wildcat stuff; they’re going to bring in more linemen, ”Martindale said. “It’s a challenge.”
When the Ravens and Steelers met in early October, Rudolph started as a quarterback and played until he suffered a concussion in the third quarter. Hodges took over and completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards and also ran twice for 20 yards.
Martindale finds it helpful that the Ravens have some experience playing against Hodges. He wants things to be better for Baltimore this time around.
“He’s a guy who can extend the games with his feet, move around in the pocket,” Martindale said. “We have to deal with it. “
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