Dennis Dixon and Jumping to Conclusions

We don’t have a lot to evaluate when looking at the play of Dennis Dixon. He has, after all, appeared in just three NFL games, starting only two. The only things we can definitively say at this point: 1) He’s not Ben Roethlisberger and 2) Every game he’s started has gone to overtime.

Beyond that? We’re just jumping to conclusions.

With that in mind, we’re going to steal a great idea from Tom Smykowski in Office Space and present The Dennis Dixon Jump To Conclusions Mat. My advice? Keep this in your pocket on Sunday and turn it into some sort of game. I don’t know, take a drink every time somebody jumps to one of the conclusions. Though, I’d only recommend that if you own a stomach pump.

A couple of thoughts on Dennis Dixon…

1) As many have already pointed out, Sunday’s game could have had a very different result had the Falcons not dropped one or two interceptions. And that’s very true. But you know what? Welcome to the NFL. As Bill Cowher used to say at every single press conference, “There’s a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL.”

Every week just about every quarterback can look back at one or two throws and say, “you know what … I was damn lucky right there.” A dropped interception helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs last season. Hell, the legendary Matt Ryan threw what could have been a pick-six had William Gay not dropped it (for the record: I thought Gay played a strong game on Sunday). It happens. Dixon isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, quarterback to come out of a game he was lucky to win.

2) That’s not to say Dixon was great on Sunday. He missed a lot of open throws and struggled mightily in the first half. Still, he came away with respectable numbers and didn’t do anything to gum up the works. I’ve seen/heard the argument that Dixon didn’t play as good as his stat line (Jon Seibel was beating this drum on the Fan on Tuesday) which comes after he maybe outperformed his numbers in Baltimore last year. I’m not going to lie: I’m a numbers guy. But you can’t just look at the raw numbers and come away with your answer (for example: Roddy White). In the right context, however, they paint a pretty good picture of what’s happening on the field.

Let’s take Dixon’s start in Baltimore last year, for example. His final line, in a vacuum, stinks. But did he perform any worse than the average quarterback did against the Ravens (and in Baltimore) last year? See for yourself (using completion percentage, Yards Per Pass Attempt and Passer Rating)…

Dennis Dixon vs. Other QB’s vs. Baltimore 2009
Passer PCT YPA Rating
Dixon @ Baltimore 46.2 5.58 60.6
Other QB’s @ Baltimore 56.0 5.70 55.4
Other QB’s vs. Baltimore (All games) 58.4 6.70 71.9

So, while Dixon wasn’t exactly a one-man highlight reel that night, he didn’t perform any better or worse than any other quarterback did against the Ravens defense in Baltimore last season. His performance was influenced by the Ravens defense/crowd just as much as it was by his own mistakes/struggles. The Ravens made a lot of quarterbacks look bad last season, and downright awful when they had to venture into Baltimore.

On Sunday, he went up against an Atlanta defense that struggled against the pass last season and added Dunta Robinson in free agency. It wasn’t always pretty, but Dixon did manage to hit a few plays down field, including a perfect 52-yard strike to Mike Wallace (can’t overthrow that guy).

Here’s a similar comparison…

Dennis Dixon vs. Other QB’s vs. Atlanta
Passer PCT YPA Rating
Dixon vs. Atlanta 69.2 9.08 81.6
Other QB’s vs. Atlanta 2009 62.6 7.50 89.5

The truly stunning thing about what he did on Sunday is that his Yards Per Attempt (which, again, is one of the most important stats in football, as far as I’m concerned; it means your team is making big plays, and big plays win football games. Ben Roethlisberger is near the top of the NFL every year in this category) was the second-highest total in the NFL, trailing only Jay Cutler. I’m going to show this just because we’ll probably never see Dixon’s name at the top of this list ever again…

Even if you take away the 52-yard pass to Wallace, the biggest play of the day, he still came out of the game with a mark of 7.36, which is still a very respectable number.

In the end, I’m not sure how he did it, but he managed to get the job done.

I still don’t know what the Steelers have in Dixon, and I’m not trying to talk him up as a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. He is what he is: A very athletic, extremely talented third-string quarterback that’s been thrust into the starting lineup because of a suspension and an injury. (I supported Byron Leftwich as the starter at the start of training camp, and remained in that camp until he went down with his knee injury.) And that’s what he’s played like.

The jury is still very much out on his career, though, it’s still always fun to jump to conclusions.

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  • SteelerBill

    Coupla things on DD – and thankfully I can always rely on you guy’s for a a little levity in the day….

    One….he did target the ‘right person’ which is huge in the NFL – the mechanics should come with a little more time under center

    Two…even though it was not showcased he is still a threat to move around and run a bit – I understand the Falcons did put a spy on him….

    That can only bode well until Ben returns….

  • Dave’s Football Blog

    I’m kind of tired of hearing about dropped interceptions. If defensive backs could catch, they’d still be receivers.

    • countertorque

      I agree that it’s pointless to speculate about what could have been. However, I think that a high # of passes that bounce off of DB’s is an important indicator of poor QB performance.

  • Dr Obvious

    If you take a look at Advanced NFL Stats’ run down, Dixon’s play had an EPA (expected points added) of -1.6. Being so close to 0, that pretty much means he did very little to help win or lose the game, and that jives with my perception on game day.

    His WPA is a good bit lower, but that’s much more context dependent, and more a question of “why did they win/lose” than “how did they play”

    FO gives him a +2 DYAR, which is also about 0, meaning about replacement level.

    • eddie

      EPA is funny because of the Top 10 QB’s with EPA > 5.0, those teams have a 6-4 W-L record…

      also, adam mentions taking away dixon’s 52yarder and he still has 7.4 y/a. well, if you take away every QB’s longest throw (it’s only week 1 so it’s a much bigger aberration now), dixon still ranks 4th overall in yds / att (behind cutler, eli, and orton).

      big plays win games indeed.

      by the way, the bottom of the yds/att list:
      sanchez (3.5)
      cassel (3.1)

      also, dixon is tied for 7th with 4 20+yd throws (alongside brady, peyton,flacco, romo).