Three’s company and four is a crowd the old saying goes. But unlike the crazy antics that Jack, Janet and Chrissy get into from the popular late 70’s show, the Steelers have a serious dilemma brewing at the QB position this offseason. And come two weeks from now, Mr. Roper will be kicking someone out.
There are four people in the QB house on the South Side, and it’s too crowded. The big question looming is, ‘Who needs to pack their bags and go live with Larry?’ Big Ben is obviously or ‘Jack’ in this story – fun loving and getting into trouble sometimes, but we love him for being able to bring all the characters together. But who are the other two?
As with any athlete, age and skill are intangibles that coaches look for when selecting players. Age and skill are interrelated and inform the other – refined skill comes from experience and years of being on the playing field. Years on the field mean you get older and therefore have the potential to some of that skill because of the rust forming. If we were to leave it at that then it would make sense to retain Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon and have Charlie Batch ride off into the sunset. But, the answer does not solely lie within the QB’s themselves. The answer also lies within the offensive line.
The offensive line has looked pretty terrible so far. And even though most fans’ concerns this offseason was at corner back, the true problem remains with the guys who are charged with protecting our quarterback. During the Redskins game, Ben dropped back to pass four times and was hit three of those times in his only series. Even though the game against the Eagles afforded the Steelers better production out of their offense, Ben was still getting hurried and hit – one sack, five hits and six hurries. That was just in two series and without two of the Eagles starting LB’s. At that pace, Ben would have been hurried roughly over 20 times, hit 15 times and sacked 3 times. Ouch. Ben is one tough nut to crack and can take the lickins. But, as I and other staff have argued on here, Ben cannot continually take that kind of punishment. He has the ability to scramble, make plays and tough it out through injuries. He’s built to play with this kind of line. But, if they keep this up, he’s bound to get hurt enough to sit out a game or two. And, with the division being a tight race for the past five years, the Steelers need every win they can get. They can’t just have a backup put in there and hope for the best – they need to play to win, every game.
So, who is best fit to play with this particular offensive line? In my opinion, the answer becomes much easier if we look at the offensive line’s pass blockin capabilities as the deciding factor. One can only hope that the line will get better as the season progresses. But what if it doesn’t. The Steelers will need back up QB’s who can excel with the line they are given. Charlie Batch is old but very smart. He’s proven time and again that he can come into a game and win – whether he’s had a week taking the majority of the snaps or just coming fresh off the bench. He makes smart plays albiet ‘conservative’ ones. He gets rid of the ball when he needs to and avoids getting nailed behind the line. He added a heap of credit to his ability to win games when he stepped in and helped the Steelers reach a 3-1 record during Big Ben’s suspension – a period of time when most pundits believed the Steelers would be lucky to go 2-2.
Dennis Dixon is still young and and still inexperienced. There is always something unsettling about him with me. I think I get the feeling that he is not adjusting to the speed of the NFL well. He makes some pretty ‘rookie’ mistakes for being a 3rd year player. However, he’s fast. And, when he is indecisive on who to throw to and the line starts to collapse, he has his legs to get him out of trouble. This is something that Batch lacks. Dixon has a bunch of ‘almost’ wins, which should count for something. But, as I stated earlier, the Steelers need someone who’s more than just a clock manager. They need the guy who can lead the offense for a game winning TD.
Byron Leftwich is still at a good age and certainly has the experience to lead the huddle. However, his arm speed is incredibly slow. He has a cannon of an arm that takes 5 years to load and fire. The lack of a quick release – whether throwing bombs or slants – causes trouble for himself and for his receivers. Ever since he left the Jags, he’s been shaky with his consistency – and maybe that is a direct result of him NOT starting. But as a backup, you need to be ready to perform well at any time.
So who completes our trio? Who steps up when Mike Tomlin comes ‘knockin’ at our door?’ Based on the offensive line’s current capabilities – #2 and #3 need to be Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. Leftwich is just too slow – with his arm and with his legs (have you seen him scramble lately, ouch). Again, the offensive line may or may not get better. But the time to prepare for the future is over. It’s time to prepare for the here and now. Baltimore, Seattle, Indy and Houston. Those are some big games coming up for the Steelers (yes the team has struggled always with Houston for some reason). The Steelers will need backups who can work with what the Steelers have now in order to win games. Batch has done so for years with the team. Dennis can get there… I hope. But Leftwich is a lost cause with that slow release. It will only spell disaster for the team should he need to step in as #3.
Many are worried Batch is on his way out because he did not take one single snap during the Eagles game. I hope it was because Tomlin already has it set in his mind that Batch is the #2 guy. Because let’s face it, Leftwich makes a terrible Chrissy.