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Assessing Dennis Dixon's Performance Against the Falcons, Part 2

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Let's continue on with our examination of Dennis Dixon's performance against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. If need be, catch yourself up by reading Part 1 first.

Part 1 ended with Dixon having led the team inside the Atlanta 40 on the team's fourth offensive series of the game. Facing 2nd and 5 from the 39, Dixon got fooled by a nicely disguised zone coverage scheme from the Falcons. Let's take a look:


This is a classic look from the Falcons defense here. It appears as if the nickel back will be responsible for covering Miller out in the flat.  But as you'll see, he defends the running back coming out of the backfield, while a linebacker dropped into the zone where Miller was about to run to.




Dixon at this moment likely thinks he's got something nice materializing, as obviously Miller is running full speed ahead, whereas the Falcons' Mike Peterson has just now turned his shoulders to begin tracking Miller. Notice also how Peterson keeps one eye on where Miller is heading, and one eye on Dixon to see if he might be telegraphing where he's looking to go with the football.


Peterson, rather than trying to chase Miller, cuts off towards the line of sight where Dixon is staring, likely knowing darn well that on a 2nd and 5, Dixon is likely to be looking for something in the short to intermediate range rather than down the field where his cornerback is in coverage. Also notice above that Peterson maybe is hidden somewhat by the defensive lineman that is being cut-blocked.


Dixon lets it go and is picked off. Initially, I and others thought this interception could have been avoided by simply lofting the ball over Peterson's head. I don't think that's correct actually upon further review. Really, it was just a nice play by Peterson and a inexperienced mistake by Dixon as he still learns all the nuanced zone looks that defensive coordinators will continue to deploy.

Had Dixon been able to hold onto the ball for a second longer, Miller would have been able to keep drifting towards the sideline. If he had that time, Dixon would have been able to maybe drop a ball in over Peterson's head. But from where I'm sitting, the angle wasn't correct for a pass with higher trajectory. So I then checked to see if Dixon was a bit hurried with his read, but alas, he had a hand in his face due to Max Starks getting beaten with an inside move.


If there ever had been a time to pull it down and run, this was probably it, as there just wasn't much there. He could have tucked it in and rolled to his left, perhaps found something down the field, or perhaps just scampered towards the sideline for a minimal gain. Anyway, this throw actually concerns me a bit after breaking it down a bit. You have to be aware of linebackers and even defensive lineman (remember the Baltimore game last year) ducking below the QB's line of sight and then breaking on the ball


If you re-watch all of Dixon's mistakes from Sunday and during his lone start last year against Baltimore, almost all of them come when he's telegraphing his delivery to the outside. His interception in OT in '09, his near-pick in the 4th quarter on Sunday, and his INT earlier on in the game - all the product of him staring down his target on the outside. Conversely, most of Dixon's impressive pass plays came over the middle of the field. All of Ward's were between the hashes, most of his completions to Miller too. Even though many fans believe Dixon is better served being rolled out of the pocket, I'm not sure that's the case. I think he's doing just fine in the pocket, particularly on those plays Bruce Arians calls that freeze linebackers and safetys for a split second as they determine if something is about to materialize on the edge. That's when Dixon is freed up to scan the middle of the field without as many bodies cluttering throwing windows.

In Part 3 we'll look at Dixon's play in the second half, particularly the one drive to begin the 4th quarter that netted 3 points and gave the Steelers the lead again at 9-6.