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We'll never know how Dennis Dixon and the first-team Steeler offense would have done against the lowly Detroit Lions. All we'll ever know is what Byron Leftwich and the first-team offense didn't do. While it is true that Dixon did not face first-team opposition, he also did not have first-team weapons on his side with which to operate. Rest assured, this paper is not a knee-jerk reaction to Saturday's game, nor a sexy desire to see a flashier, more exciting quarterback. I have felt strongly about Dixon for quite some time.
There are those who like to end all arguments by saying, "The staff knows what they are doing. If they think Leftwich is a better option, so be it." I am not one of those people. If that is how deep we all go, then there is no sense in discussing anything here. They know more than us, so let's just keep quiet and wait for the next game. Take the opposite approach. I question and critique. Besides, if the staff always made the right decisions about personnel, how come I just saw Bruce Davis and Ricardo Colclough tending bar? Let's have fun here.
At best, the Steelers' offensive line is shaky to mediocre. It was shaky before Willie Colon's Achilles heel snapped. The Steelers brought in Flozell Adams to replace Colon. Adams asset is his run blocking, as he is too big and old to pass block. If the Steelers cannot protect the quarterback, why have the most immobile quarterback in the backfield? Leftwich is going to be picking himself off the ground all day long. Dixon can at least escape the pass rush that our line can't prevent.
It puzzles me every time I see the words "Dixon" and "ready" in the same sentence. Dixon was drafted on the same weekend as Joe Flacco, who was "ready" to lead his team into an AFC road Championship Game. Dixon was on an NFL team for an entire year before Mark Sanchez was "ready" to do the same. Josh Freeman, drafted a year later than Dixon, was "ready" to send Byron Leftwich to the glue factory a season ago.
The claim that those players were all much higher draft picks than Dixon does not hold water. Dixon was the leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy, until an injury knocked him out of the running and off the early draft board. True, the Heisman is no barometer for NFL success, but Dixon clearly fell off the cliff with his injury. Interestingly, the Detroit Lion who started against the Steelers, Matthew Stafford, was drafted a year later than Dixon, yet miraculously he is ready.
Dennis Dixon will never be "ready" until the Steelers show some confidence in him. In his only NFL start, the Steelers lost in overtime to their archrival, in prime time, on the road, and on short notice. You think those elements were tough for the young man? They weren't his biggest obstacle, huge as they were. His biggest problem was that the team put him in a straight jacket. They told him there was no back-up, only Tyler Palko. They told him there was no safety net. They turned the playbook into cliff notes. Despite all that, elements you would be hard-pressed to find forced on any first-time quarterback, they almost won the darn game. Imagine if the Steelers had shown a little more confidence in Dixon and worried less about Palko. On the rare occasion they let him use his legs, Dixon scored on a 25-yard touchdown run. Had that happened just a few more times, especially on Pittsburgh's final drive in overtime, the Steelers might be two-time defending Super Bowl Champions right now.
When Roethlisberger's fate was evident, it was a smart move for the team to immediately sign Leftwich again. What was disheartening was the instant message that Leftwich was holding pole position. What did that do to Dixon's confidence? Ironically, this year Dixon will have safety nets all over the place. He's got Leftwich, Charlie Batch and then Ben in game five. Now is the perfect time to let Dixon win you some football games with no handcuffs or straight jackets. The Steelers should be more afraid of losing football games than losing Dixon to injury.
Dennis Dixon is not the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big Ben is. Therefore, the fear of losing a mobile quarterback to injury should not exist. We don't need Dixon to last 16 games, getting belted because he's the anti-Peyton. We need him to last four games. And, if Dixon does get hurt, we are no different than where we are now with Leftwich.
Does Dixon look like a run-first quarterback at times? Does he look tentative? Of course he does. Those things get tweaked with time and experience. But how can we expect him to tweak anything when he is given neither the time nor the experience?
Dixon should be given the keys to the car with the first-team offense, without a governor, like he should have been given last year in Baltimore. We need to win two or three ballgames before the bye week and Dixon should be given snaps with the first string, starting now, to make that happen. Moreover, Dixon should be given a strong vote of confidence by everyone in the organization so maybe he won't look like a guy who no one has confidence in. How can you expect a man to have something that was never given to him in the first place?
Dixon's value to the team may go far beyond four games. If Dixon looks good in those games, he could become the most sought-after backup in the NFL. Dixon could become 2009's version of Matt Cassell or 2007's version of Matt Schaub. Teams like the Vikings or Bills might offer a substantial deal to acquire him, knowing that Dixon will never start over the long haul for Pittsburgh.
In any case, I cannot come to terms right now with Byron Leftwich being a better option than Dennis Dixon. Give Dixon a legitimate shot with the first team, give him a true vote of confidence for the first time, and give him those things very soon.