After the Steelers’ first preseason game against the Lions, we argued that quarterback Dennis Dixon deserves some reps with the first team, given the fact that he played really well against the Lions’ reserves — and that presumed interim starter Byron Leftwich didn’t.
The disparity in the performance of the two quarterbacks made the predetermined decision to go with Leftwich seem odd. Dixon had played well when pressed into service last year due to a concussion to Ben Roethlisberger, and Dixon had done nothing to justify not giving him a shot to compete with Leftwich in the 2010 offseason or training camp, because Dixon simply didn’t receive an opportunity to compete with Leftwich.
Since nothing in the NFL happens by accident, we tried to identify the reason for the decision to not give Dixon a fair shot. The possible explanations fall into the realm where reasonable minds can differ; we (at least, I) became intrigued by the possibility that the Steelers, who in an apparent effort to keep signing bonuses low don’t require late-round draft picks to sign four-year deals, didn’t want the third-year quarterback to become a hot commodity as he approached restricted free agency in 2011. If the Steelers intend to follow through on reports that one more false move from Big Ben will get him booted out of the ‘Burgh, it makes sense for the Steelers to find a way to keep Dixon around at a reasonable price until Roethlisberger can prove over a full offseason that this specific leopard has truly changed his black-and-gold spots.
Again, all we wanted was for Dixon to get a fair shot. And the coaches in Pittsburgh apparently saw enough through two preseason games to conclude that he deserved one. And so he got one.
And on Sunday night in Denver he apparently blew it.
Dixon completed nine of 16 passes for 94 yards, but he threw two costly interceptions, including a ball that was returned 77 yards by Broncos cornerback Andre Goodman for a touchdown. Though he also gained 33 yards on three carries, Dixon appeared to be out of his element and comfort zone while facing the Denver starting defense.
Does it mean that Dixon didn’t deserve a shot with the starters? No. The Steelers needed to see what Dixon could do — especially since Leftwich hasn’t exactly looked a whole lot better the third quarter of Sunday night’s game, throwing three passes and completing none.
Though Dixon still has special skills, his inability to step up when he got his chance to take the starting job for the first four games means that he probably won’t be the starter come Week One, and that the Steelers won’t have to worry as much about someone making Dixon an offer next offseason that the Steelers won’t be willing or able to match.