The View From 522: Panthers and Preseason

Since Gretz is a season-ticket holder, he’s going to take a look at the debauchery and insanity that takes place in the Heinz Field stands after every home game he attends.

I’m still not fully on board with Roger Goodell’s plan for an 18-game regular season schedule, but anything that eliminates preseason football is OK in my book. I understand the importance of the games for coaches and the fringe players fighting for roster spots (which need every possible snap to prove their worth) but as part of the ticket-buying public? These games are horrible, especially if you’re saddled with the fourth preseason game, usually the worst of the bunch.

As such, Thursday’s game at Heinz Field against the Carolina Panthers (which played their No. 3 and 4 quarterbacks the entire game) produced little of the insanity and mayhem we’re used to seeing. Frankly, it was pretty boring, at least as far as live football goes.

A few things…

– How awful are preseason games? I had to take in this game by myself due to a lack of interest in preseason football (the combination of a Thursday night and temperatures that rivaled the sixth circle of hell certainly didn’t help things). Not even immediate family wanted to go (which, I acknowledge, probably says more about me than anything else). Eventually, I found a buddy that was willing to take in some practice football with me, only to have him cancel at the last minute due to not being able to get out of work. Good times.

Rather than sell my extra ticket to some scalper for $10 on the street, I simply ate it. I’d rather get nothing for it than have somebody else make a profit off of it.

– Pretty much the only semi-cool thing that happened on the night was a brief pre-game encounter with Art Rooney. While standing at my usual pre-game watering hole along the upper deck concourse, young Art was casually strolling through the stadium. He popped his head in, said hello, and continued on his way. My initial thoughts: He’s much shorter than I expected.

Meanwhile, I continued to drink.

– Byron Leftwich violated rule No. 1 of preseason football: Don’t get hurt. I didn’t even realize he was on the ground, and apparently in a great deal of pain, until he slowly limped off the field. And now? Well, those of you that wanted Dennis Dixon … you got him.

Of course, to further prove the theory that the backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team, Charlie Batch is quite a fan favorite right now (there was actually a guy about 10 rows in front of me wearing a Charlie Batch jersey). Seriously, you can’t make this shit up. Granted, when Ben isn’t hurt/suspended he’s the unquestioned starter, and for good reason. But do you remember during the 2008 season when Byron Leftwich came off the bench against Washington, had a strong game, and instantly had a vocal contingent of fans looking for him to get a start? Well, when Leftwich entered camp as the starter, the Dixon bandwagon was rolling along, and now that Dixon has to take over for the injured Leftwich, Charlie Batch is the man everybody wants (example: Ron Cook). I have no doubt that if Charlie Batch takes a snap there’s going to be somebody screaming for Antwaan Randle El to line up at quarterback, simply because he would be next in line.

Look, Charlie Batch is by almost all accounts a better person than he is football player (and to hold a job in the NFL for as long as he has shows that he was, at least at some point, a pretty good football player), and I love that he’s perhaps the most active athlete in Pittsburgh when it comes to making his community a better place. Great guy. But I just don’t see how he can be considered to be the starter unless the other three quarterbacks on the roster are not available. The last two regular season games he’s played he’s had to leave with an injury. And in the games he hasn’t had to leave early, he simply hasn’t been that good (preseason games against the Denver Broncos fourth-team defense excluded). Not questioning his toughness, just the durability.

That said, I’m going to miss watching Leftwich throw fastballs on his screen passes and check downs. That guy can throw the hell out of the football. Unfortunately, “touch” is not a part of his football terminology.

– Speaking of quarterbacks, the reaction for Ben Roethlisberger (making his Heinz Field debut this season) was positive.

– The announced attendance was just over 52,000 (Heinz Field capacity is just over 65,000). I’d say that was an optimistic number. By the start of the fourth quarter, it was probably down to 15,000.

– I really hope the Steelers can find a spot for Stevenson Sylvester. I realize they already have 10,000 linebackers worthy of a roster spot, but that guy has been all over the field this preseason. He had one of the best hits of the night in the second quarter, unloading on, I think, David Gettis. Another great hit? Crezdon Butler late in the fourth quarter on an unidentified Panther that could be heard all the way in the upper deck.

– There’s always one fan of a team not playing in the game, and on Thursday it was, of all things, a Baltimore Ravens fan. Bizarre.

I promise, next Sunday’s game season opener against Atlanta will produce much better results.

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  • RoB D

    I just don’t see the Steelers going with anyone other than Batch at this point, Adam. It’s not exciting and it’s not what anyone wanted. But I can’t see a running QB like Dixon, with very little experience against NFL D’s and a learning curve ahead of them that is huge (He should have had 3 INT’s last week) would be Tomlin’s choice for the first 4 games. Start Batch and maybe Dixon plays a bit of the Slash role? That’d be cool.

    I don’t mean to belabor the point, But Tomlin really blew a hole in our chances with his decision to play our STARTER behind backups O=line guys. We might pay for that dearly.

  • Mike Frazer

    When Lefty got hurt, only two backups were playing on the O-line (Flozell Adams was one of the starters missing, I don’t recall who the other was). So he wasn’t “playing behind (a) backup O-line” as you said.

    Let’s face it: the MEDIA, not the Steelers, anointed Lefty as the starter prior to last night’s game. I don’t recall any official release from the cub stating that they had a definitive starter chosen. It was one last chance to get a look at the guys. And, if you haven’t been paying attention, Dixon is extremely coachable. Of course, everyone who is against him seems to have already forgotten that Dixon was projected as a first-round talent who fell to the 5th round after a devastating knee injury caused questions about his ability to move outside the pocket after he recovered. Guess what? No problems moving around, and we got a first-rounder for a fifth-round price tag. It’s not like he was some project QB who could be a serviceable backup one day; he was a starter-caliber QB who happened to fall into a bad situation. He barely lost to the Ravens last year — that same Ravens team that has one of the most punishing Ds in the NFL. If he can come within a whisker of beating them, he can handle at LEAST Atlanta and Tennessee.

    • Eric

      I think you’re making way too much of Dixon being a “projected 1st round pick”. Projected by who, bleacher report? The media is always wildly inaccurate with where players should be drafted and where they are. I remember when Santonio Holmes and Chad Jackson were projected to be gone by the middle of the first round and that Sinorce Moss was projected as a late first round pick. Didn’t happen that way though. For the sake of argument though, let’s say that Dixon would have been a first rounder… what does that prove? Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf, etc were first round picks. Once a guy is drafted all that matters is how he actually plays. So let’s ease off the iron clad assumption that Dixon is a starting caliber NFL qb.

  • ryan


    I don’t think anybody doubts Dixon’s physical skills, and I’ve actually been in his camp for a couple months now (although, I’ve recently waffled with Batch now back in the picture). That said, I’m fine if it’s Dennis or Charlie — both are capable for different reasons. But the indications coming out of Latrobe (by way of Jim Wexell) is that Dixon wasn’t a leader in the same way Leftwich was. He didn’t have the respect of the vets, and all else equal (assuming we agree that Dixon and Leftwich are replacement level QBs), veteran leadership won out. Right up until the moment Byron got leg-whipped.

  • FW

    Wait, so no first team reps for Chuckles all thru camp, and suddenly everyone wants him to be starter?

    Just don’t see how that can work, frankly. We have to hope Dixon’s decision-making improves, the play-calling lends an assist, and not going vanilla gives a boost. I could see Chaz come in for a series or two to give Dennis a look at the D, but if Batch gets the nod I will be very surprised.

  • ryan


    I totally agree about the no reps vs. LET’S START CHAZ NOW internet meme. I really have no idea why nobody (and I’m mostly talking me — but I don’t remember reading it elsewhere this summer) ever put Batch in the starting-QB conversation.

    Part of it, I think, is that the Leftwich trade pretty much made it clear which way the organization wanted to go, and Dixon was the default No. 2/challenger based on the ’09 Ravens game. Add the fact that Charlie’s perpetually hurt and there’s your default two-man QB race.

    Honestly, I’m fine with either Dixon or Batch under center, and as I mentioned previously, I suspect that they will both play in some capacity, just like Dixon and Leftwich would have.