Pretty Sure Steelers Won’t Keep Dixon on Bench So He Doesn’t Improve, Whinge

This is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, and maybe it signifies a tipping point in the whole “Well, I was leaning towards Byron but now I’m definitely on the Dennis bandwagon!” saga, but Sunday after “stud[ying] every snap” taken by Leftwich and Dixon, PFT’s Mike Florio shared his thoughts on the matter.

On the surface, no biggie — we’re all doing it because it’s the preseason, Ben’s going to be on the shelf for at least the first four games, and Dennis showed well against the Lions Saturday. One problem: it sounds like Florio was “studying” the wrong tape. The title of his post — “Dennis Dixon deserves some first-team preseason snaps” — is perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there.

So with apologies to FJM, let’s get to it:

PFT: While we’re not yet ready to say that Dixon, not Leftwich, should lead the Pittsburgh offense during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension (but we’re ready to think it), we believe it’s only fair that [Dennis] Dixon at some point get a crack at running with the ones in a preseason game, so that the team can assess whether he’s the better option to serve as Roethlisberger’s short-term replacement.

I think most people agree with this sentiment. I’ve been saying it for a month, and after the Lions game some fans and media in the pro-Byron camp admitted to rethinking their pre-training camp stance. If nothing else, maybe the Steelers could come up with some two-headed quarterbacking system for the first month of the season. Too bad Florio didn’t stop there.

Enter Dixon, who has an impressive, effortless lateral burst, allowing him to escape trouble and buy time, like Roethlisberger does, only possibly more effectively. And when it’s time to turn on the gas vertically, Dixon arguably is the best running quarterback currently in the league.

No, not possibly more effectively. Not even close. Would Dennis beat Ben in a foot race? Yeah. But playing quarterback is more than running really fast in a straight line. Roethlisberger’s career has been built on escaping trouble and buying time. Off the top of my head, the the 2008 Week 5 win over the Jags that included some Houdini magic on the last drive (particularly on the pass to Hines Ward that eventually set up the touchdown), the Week 15 “run like you’re being chased by wild animals” touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes against the Ravens, and just about any play from the Super Bowl. And then there are all the fourth-quarter comebacks that now number in the 20s.

As for the argument that Dixon is the best running quarterback currently in the league, well, let’s see. There’s Michael Vick, Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Donovan McNabb, Tarvaris Jackson, not to mention mobile guys like Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Matt Cassel and David Garrard. So … maybe. But probably not and, more importantly, not necessarily a characteristic shared by successful quarterbacks.

All that said, we’ve got a feeling that the Steelers don’t want Dixon to play because they don’t want him to improve and they don’t want to have to put him on the bench once Roethlisberger is cleared to return and they don’t want to have to listen to Dixon’s agent complain that the one-time Heisman candidate could be the best option to help the Steelers win, even with Roethlisberger on the depth chart.

Yes, the Steelers organization has suddenly morphed into the New York Knicks. Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have decided they don’t want to play Dixon because — God forbid — he improves and forces them to put him on the bench once Ben returns after his suspension. Because we were all under the assumption that the quarterback gig was up for grabs and that once Roethlisberger returned to the team, his job wouldn’t be there waiting for him. (And why should it? The Steelers only invested $100 million in him, he distinguished himself as one of the top five QBs in the league a year ago, and he’s got two Super Bowl rings, all by the age of 27. Yeah, screw that guy.)

So following Florio’s logic, the organization makes personnel decisions based on possible topics a player’s rep might complain about. I was under the impression that Dixon’s agent was speaking publicly about his client getting a shot at the starting gig because Dixon’s entering his third year in the NFL, his contract is expiring, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to convince teams to pay you when they have something to go on beyond preseason film.

And let’s be honest: assuming for the moment that Tomlin names Dixon the starter for September, and Dixon proceeds to rack up 158.3 passer ratings every week, throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns per game, rushes for another 50 yards (including another TD!), and doesn’t throw a pick or make a single mental mistake, guess what happens when October rolls around? That’s right: Ben’s reinstalled as the starter and Dennis quietly takes his place on the bench next to Byron.

We’re not talking about the 2005 season, when Ben was on the shelf for four games as he recovered from midseason surgery and Bill Cowher had to decide between Tommy Maddux and Charlie Batch. This is the 2004 first-round pick and franchise quarterback versus the 2008 fifth-rounder with one career start and an above-average performance against the Lions’ second- and third-teamers in a preseason game. I could see how it would be easy to think Dixon could pass Ben on the depth chart.

Though Dixon’s departure will be inevitable if the Steelers ultimately decide that Ben remains the long-term answer at the position, the inevitable could come a lot sooner if Dixon plays with the first string in the regular season the way he performed with the backups in the preseason on Saturday night.

Wait, isn’t that the point Dixon’s agent was making when he lobbied that his guy should get a shot at the starting job? And if the Steelers are worried about that eventuality — particularly if Dixon improves in the process — why in god’s name would they let Dixon play with the first-teamers in any of the remaining preseason games? I’m confused. Perhaps this will clear things up:

So if Roethlisberger doesn’t play well in the last 12 games of the 2010 season, don’t be shocked if Big Ben gets the bum’s rush, just like the Eagles did when they realized that, if they didn’t find a way to elevate Kevin Kolb, they’d risk losing their chance at ensuring quality quarterback play deep into the current decade.

Nope, that clears up nothing. First, Ben’s 28 and conceivably, his best years are in front of him. Which means he could play deep into the current decade. Donovan is 33 and while he’s an upgrade for the Redskins, it’s not like the fact that the Eagles finally traded him caught anybody off guard. We’ve been talking about it since Philly drafted Kolb.

The only reason Steelers fans have ever considered trading Ben was because he couldn’t keep his pants on in public. Never, ever did anybody suggest shipping Roethlisberger out of town for his 20-something fourth-quarter comeback victories, or two Super Bowl rings, or 90-plus passer ratings. No idea how that’s not obvious.

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  • RoB D


    Somebody frame this one from Ryan..

  • SteelerBill

    First of all Ryan…..I take it whinge is the yinzer form of whine?

    Isn’t it funny that after last year – with all the folks that ‘complained’ about Ben ‘holding the ball too long’ and no emphasis on the running game and longing for the days of old – a more ‘conservative’ approach…that they would now want a non-traditional QB? Perhaps by the ‘days of old’ they meant Kordell

    Sorry DD is a running back to me… and even though he is VY’esque – running QB’s do not win in this league, even if it is only temporary.

    Although a good question was asked on ESPN Radio yesterday – what is DD’s role on this team? Why is he here? All legit questions…

    As far as Florio’s last point that Ben would be McNabb’ed……Well Florio is from Pittsburgh, and even though he acts like the geeky kid that got beat up all the time he does understand the passion that embodies the Steeler fan base – if he can say something to generate hits on his web page – he’ll do it.

  • countertorque

    Good post Ryan. I finally watched the preseason game and I did find myself getting caught up in Dixon’s performance. But, I’m a huge fan of Stewart, so that’s not too surprising. After I turned off the TV, I remembered that he ran for a couple of first downs against some scrubs. And he didn’t pass very well.

    Even if the guy is as good as Stewart was (which he probably isn’t), Ben is still clearly superior. There’s no question. Still, I love having the guy on the team.

    BTW, nice website. It has already become my new home for Steelers info and discussion. It’s great to see so many HSS guys commenting here.

  • ryan

    countertorque, good to hear from you, man. And thanks for the kind words. If all goes according to plan, we’ll make millions off this venture.

  • Dean Keaton

    (Also posted at HSS)
    I enjoyed the rant, Ryan, thanks for sharing that…

    You know, I just realized the thing about Florio that bugs me the most – He doesn’t stick to football opinions, he thinks he’s the character police. He tries to pinpoint peoples’ motives, and then picks apart their every action and word to try to find an inconsistency or something to point a finger at, particularly harping on what he sees as selfishness. Of course people are going to be a bit inconsistent and act in their own self interest! Nobody’s perfect, but he certainly expects them to be. Florio’s angle used to be contracts, legal entanglements of players & NFL staff, etc., but his adopted schtick of being the moral police for what people related to the NFL say is very self-righteous and beyond annoying.

    The sad part – I’ll probably keep reading anyway. I’ve abandoned reading Simmons, Easterbrook, Pasquarelli, and Peter King, but still haven’t been able to pull myself away from reading PFT…

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