The die is cast and the choice has been made. Dennis Dixon is the choice to start the season next Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons. I thought Charlie Batch would be the man, but Bruce Arians and Mike Tomlin have decided to go with huge potential and forego the supposed security a veteran brings. It’s a gamble, but what in the NFL is a lock?
The pick of Dennis maybe tells us a few things.
1. Charlie never really had a chance in the first place. The Steelers had already made up their minds before training camp kicked off. Coach Tomlin had said himself that he hoped to have a starter in place by the start of camp. The overwhelming practice reps that Ben, Byron, and Dennis split versus the few that Charlie got tells you that they were settled on Ben, Byron and Dennis. The little work that Charlie got in the pre-season only became a lot in the last game against Carolina when Byron got hurt. What was probably intended to be mop-up work for both Dennis and Charlie became a little more important, as in keeping them both healthy. Dennis’ cameo appearance and quick hook (3 plays) was the first indicator that Dennis was about to become the man.
2. Dennis got the nod because he forced himself into the starting QB battle by the complete body of work he exhibited throughout OTA’s and into training camp. I don’t think that Dennis was seriously looked at as the possible starter until he started opening eyes at camp and because of his excellent work in his first two games of the pre-season. Then it gave the Steelers no choice but to explore the possibility of seeing if Dennis could be the man. Dennis didn’t do well in Denver…but remember the evaluation period in pre-season isn’t just the games. And in a high-powered offense with an offensive coordinator that is aggressive, and Bruce Arians, if he is anything, is aggressive, then the explosive athleticism of Dennis makes sense. Coaching is not an exact science, a lot of coaching is what your gut is telling you. Bruce Arians gut was telling him that Dennis could drive the car. A flat tire (Dennis’ performance in Denver) is not the same thing as totalling the car.
3. Byron’s knee and how fast he’s expected back (the standard 2-4 weeks) may have played a factor in the decision. If Byron’s expected to go closer to the four week side of the estimated recovery time maybe the coaches lean towards the full playbook and Charlie. But if Byron’s tests and the consensus from the training staff behind closed doors is that Leftwich might get back quicker, then Dennis can run a limited play-call list (if indeed he has a shorter list than Charlie) for a game or two (the way he did in Baltimore last year), and the pick of Dennis to start makes all the more sense. After a couple of games the defensive coordinators can game plan and start to take away the things Dennis does best with a short list. But that’s supposing Dennis doesn’t grow with the offense. Success begets success and the young buck is a very bright dude and may just light it up while expanding his comfort level with the entire playbook and make a speedy recovery by Byron important only to Byron.
4. Dennis is a quick study. The pick-six that Andre Goodman jumped the route on and took to the house in Mile High was the same route that Dennis hooked up with Manny Sanders for six against the Panthers, but a better job of selling the route by Sanders and Dennis being quicker to pull the trigger made it successful. Success and failure in the NFL is really that close.