DENVER - AUGUST 29: Quarterback Charlie Batch #16 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands the ball off to running back Jonathan Dwyer #41 against the Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 29 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
I’ve been wondering about this ever since this quarterback derby to replace Ben during his suspension began in the spring. In the beginning it made sense to dismiss Charlie Batch from serious consideration as the replacement starter. At that time it was unclear as to whether Ben had a future with the Steelers at all. Was he out of control? Would a period of phony contrition lead to additional incidents with corresponding suspensions? Reacquiring Byron Leftwich seemed a smart move, even inspired. And I don’t disagree with any of it. But the situation has changed, and with it so might our thinking.
The conventional wisdom among many in Steelers Nation is that Batch is too old and too fragile to be of any further use to the franchise. Many of these same people, without a touch of irony, root for and salute yet one more rendition of the Brett Favre show; a performer who is five years older and who has a lot more mileage on his body than Batch could accumulate if he played fulltime for ten more years. Now, let’s get a few things clear. First, this is not just some knee jerk reaction to the performances in Sunday’s game. There is nothing that was displayed by any of the quarterback performances that should be considered uncharacteristic. With the exception of Leftwich each qb’s assets and liabilities were on display. Second, two things have changed that should alter our thinking about Batch being the automatic odd man out in this competition.
Number one, all indications are that whatever afflicted Ben seems to be behind him. The expectation is that the Commissioner will settle on the minimum suspension of four games. There is absolutely no expectation among league and team officials, teammates, the media or the fans that Ben will backslide. We could all be wrong of course. Number two, once it became clear that Dixon could seriously challenge to be the starter in Ben’s absence, the dynamics of the situation change radically. Leftwich makes sense as a number two behind a shaky number one in Ben. He has been a successful starter on playoff caliber teams, relatively young, relatively sturdy, respected particularly by the vets. But what if he isn’t #2? If Dixon captures the #2 position and Ben is stable at #1. In other words, If the need is more or less to carry the team for four games at the beginning of the season then who makes more sense being the #3, Leftwich or Batch? As a #2 Lefty got to play in two games during the Steelers last championship run, and then got a ring. But being a three is an entirely different proposition. You probably won’t play at all and will likely be inactive much of the time. For someone who still believes that he can make a serious contribution in this league that would be a blow. To settle for #3 is to give up the dream. On the other hand Batch has a presence and makes a contribution well beyond the job description of a third string quarterback. He is the player representative to the union, like Leftwich has experience as a starter, knows the offense better than anyone, maybe even Ben, a coach on the field, Is a community asset, loved by the front office and the fans, happy with his role and cheaper.
But let’s not stop there. If Ben is going to be okay, if this is just about filling in for four games at most, then who better qualified than Batch? Of the three he’s the only one who has actually started a game for the Steelers and won other than Ben on the roster. He’s much more experienced than Dixon, much more mobile and nimble than Leftwich, more knowledgeable and comfortable with team personnel than either. He can make all the throws, is a courageous leader and probably is mentally more resilient. Physical fragility is not really an issue. He either survives the four game stretch or he doesn’t. If not, move on to the next guy. Let’s not forget that Dixon couldn’t beat out Batch last year for #2. The only reason that Dennis started in Baltimore is that both Ben and Charlie were hurt. How is it that now Charlie isn’t even part of the competition? The answer six months ago was that the situation had more long term implications. Today it doesn’t. And in a short term scenario Charlie may be a more competitive alternative than either Dixon or Leftwich. What do you think?