Onward with our breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers roster as the 2010 offseason gets underway.
Age and 2009 Stats: 27 years old; 337 passing attempts, 506 completions (66.6%), 4,328 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs, 100.5 passer rating
Contract Status: Signed through 2016
2009 Analysis: In many respects, Roethlisberger had his finest professional season in 2009. His interception numbers were down, his TDs up, and in the first half of the season at least, he looked more in command of the offense and more in tune mentally with what was unfolding in front of him than ever before. Big Ben's 4,328 passing yards dusted his previous best of 3,513 back in '06. His 26 TDs were the second most of his career, while his interception % of 2.4 marked a personal best.
For the fourth time in as many years, Roethlisberger was battered and bruised by opposing defenses. He was sacked 50 times in '09, tied for the most of any quarterback in the league with Aaron Rodgers. Those 50 sacks resulted in 348 lost yards - also the most in the NFL. Of course, the debate raged on all year about just how many of Big Ben's sacks were the result of him holding on to the ball too long. I'm in the process of downloading all of this year's games and plan to take another look myself, but I think it's fair to say that Ben's tendency to hold on to the ball cost the Steelers on several occasions. I know, you have to take the good with the bad, but the bottom line is, in my opinion: it's nice to know that Big Ben can make huge plays in the passing game by making would-be tacklers miss in the backfield while his receivers break free down field, but it's not something he can count on pulling off so frequently. Look at the two quarterbacks still playing this season - the two best in the league right now - they make their living by getting the ball out extraordinarily quickly. Manning was sacked just 10 times in '09; Brees 20. And no, their offensive lines aren't that much better than the Steelers'.
Anyway, I'd imagine that Roethlisberger wouldn't consider his 2009 season to be a success merely because the team didn't play up to their potential in the win column. Maybe so, but it's easy to forget just how special he was for large parts of the season. His performances against San Diego, Denver, Green Bay and even Miami were all outstanding. He was very, very good in several other games that the defense couldn't close, but it's only fair to mention that he was guilty of turning the ball over at inopportune times in several of those defeats.
2010 Outlook: I'm particularly interested to see what kind of evolution, if any, we'll see to the Steelers offense in 2010. Gone is quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson; same with Larry Zeirlein. As for Bruce Arians, he retains his job for 2010, but I wonder if he'll have the same control next season. We've already heard the Rooney clan mention the Steelers will be getting back to their old smash-mouthed ways. We'll see if Arians is able to pull that off. As for Ben, he has a nice track record of bouncing back from disappointing years. He set career highs in 2007 following the '06 fiasco. Though I'd hardly consider '09 a fiasco, I do think he'll go in to next year with a similar chip on his shoulder.
Age and 2009 Stats: 25 years old; 12 passing attempts, 26 completions (46.2%), 145 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 60.6 passer rating.
2009 Analysis: Dixon almost cemented his name in to Steelers lore by leading the team to victory on the road against the rival Ravens. It wasn't meant to be though, as the Steelers lost in overtime after Dixon was picked off on a pass that he telegraphed. Still, Dixon was a pleasure to watch that night. His long TD scamper in the 4th quarter had me out of my seat going crazy. Same with his TD strike to Santonio Holmes in the 1st. Both were great plays by him and both had me thinking 'oh my, we may actually pull this one out!'
It's too bad Dixon cost the Steelers with his pick. You could see just how badly he wanted to win and just how awful he felt after the game. I was impressed by the competitive spirit he showed that night that's for sure and feel much, much better about the team's chances if he were forced in to action in 2010.
2010 Outlook: What can you say? Hopefully Dennis DIxon won't play in 2010. That's not to say I don't want to watch him guide our beloved Steelers. Quite the contrary actually. I'd find it enormously gratifying I think to watch the underdog potentially lead the Steelers to success. I'd just prefer our 2-time Super Bowl champion quarterback to stay healthy and hopefully bring home Lombardi number seven. We'll see what happens with Dixon's future in Pittsburgh beyond 2010. He's set to become a free agent that year and could very well land elsewhere if he were thrust in to action next year and performs well. I do think it's perfectly safe to assume that Dixon will be the team's #2 QB in 2010, even if the organization were to bring Charlie Batch back for one more year.
I'm going to skip the details and get right to the point with regards to Batch. He's not currently under contract with the Steelers. He's coming off a 1-year deal in which he took a fairly significant pay-cut from his previous contract. I'd imagine the Steelers will bring him back if Batch wants to return and retire a Steeler - which I believe he does. I think it'd be understood that Batch would be the #3 option on gameday, but that doesn't mean the team couldn't get some value from his presence in the meeting rooms each week. I know Batch is a competitor, but I have to believe he knows he's a shell of himself physically. I'd be surprised if he really wants to prove he can still play by signing as a backup with some team that has a shaky QB situation. My guess instead is that he'll stay in Pittsburgh where his family is settled and where he's made quite a connection and difference in the community.