Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


Steelers position review - Quarterback

April 03, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

This is Part 5 of our Steelers position review series.  If you haven’t read Part 1 - 4, please click the links below.

Steelers position review - Cornerbacks

Steelers position review - Safeties

Steelers position review - Linebackers

Steelers position review - Defensive Line

Now that we’ve finished reviewing the defense, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ offense.  The first position that we’re going to review is the quarterback position.

Most fans would probably say that the Steelers are set at the quarterback position.  They’ve got their franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and 3 veteran backups in Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch, and Dennis Dixon.

Big Ben had an outstanding season.  Despite missing 4 games, he still passed for 3,200 yards.  But perhaps more importantly, he drastically reduced his number of interception.  In 2008 he threw 15 interceptions, in 2009 he threw 12, but in 2010 he threw only 5.  Even factoring in the games that he missed, this was still the lowest interceptions/game average of his career.

Big Ben ended the regular season with a quarterback rating of 97.0.  That was 5th best in the entire NFL.  Moreover, he led the Steelers to another Super Bowl.  I think it’s safe to say that the Steelers’ starting quarterback position is in good hands.

The problem begins with the Steelers’ backups.  Byron Leftwich was brought back to carry the team during Big Ben’s suspension.  However, he got injured before the season started, and he never got to fill that role.

The injury wasn’t Byron’s fault, and I don’t hold it against him.  However, I have a huge concern about what I saw before he got injured.  During training camp, he looked extremely inaccurate.  During the preseason, that inaccuracy didn’t seem to change.

In his first stint with the Steelers, I felt very confident anytime Byron entered the game.  He was an experienced veteran who had seen it all.  However, during his current stint with the Steelers I have yet to feel that confidence.

QB Byron Leftwich

Leftwich is 31 years old, which isn’t particularly old for an NFL quarterback.  He still has quite a few years left in his career.  However, he has to look much better during this year’s training camp than he did last year, or he might not make the team.

While Byron Leftwich is young enough to play for a few more seasons, Charlie Batch probably isn’t.  Batch will turn 37 during the 2011 season.  He’s been a backup quarterback for the Steelers for the past 8 years (since 2002).  Batch has been a reliable backup during that time.  But he can’t play forever.  People wanted to see Brett Favre retire when he was Charlie’s age.  And Brett was one of the all-time greats.  So I think it’s time for Batch retire.  Sorry Charlie.  But for what it’s worth, I think Batch would make a great addition to the Steelers’ coaching staff.

Dennis Dixon is the final backup quarterback for the Steelers.  Like Leftwich,  Dixon missed much of the season with an injury.  However, Dixon is only 26 years old.  That’s about how old I would expect a backup quarterback to be.

Dixon has shown some good things in the limited opportunities that he’s gotten to play.  But he’s also shown some bad tendencies.  To be honest, I’m not sure that all of it is his fault.  For example, Dixon is probably the most athletic of all of the Steelers quarterbacks.  Yet, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians seldom allowed him to utilize his running talents.  This was partially due to the fact that Leftwich was already hurt, and Roethlisberger was suspended.  Arians didn’t want to risk Dixon getting hurt (which ultimately happened anyway).  But going forward, Arians has to utilize all of Dixon’s skills.

To make the matter even more complicated, Dixon is a free agent this year.  So it’s possible that the Steelers could lose him to free agency.

If I were to guess what will happen going forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlie Batch retired, Byron Leftwich was released, and the Steelers signed Dennis Dixon and another veteran quarterback to be the second backup quarterback on the roster.  How does Bruce Gradkowski sound?

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The Steelers’ challenges (Part 7)

April 20, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

This is part 7 in a series evaluating the Steelers’ off-season needs.  So far, we’ve looked at the cornerbackssafeties, linebackersdefensive linemenoffensive linemen, and tight ends.    The next position that we’re going to look at is quarterback.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would have told you that it was silly to even talk about the quarterback position.  I would have said that Ben Roethlisberger was the most secure player on the entire Steelers roster.  But now, I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think the Steelers are going to trade Roethlisberger.  And I definitely don’t think they’re going to cut him.  But I once believed  there was 0% chance of either of those things happening, but now I believe there is actually a slight possibility that Ben could be dealt.  Notice I said “slight”.  Slight means less than 5% chance, so I’m not even going to explore that possibility.

Despite the off-field issues that have gotten all of the attention lately, Ben actually had possibly the best season of his career last year.  He established new personal highs for pass attempts and passing yards.  In fact, he exceeded his old record for passing yards by almost 1,000 yards.  He also recorded the second highest QB rating of his career.

QB Ben Roethlisberger

Unfortunately, Big Ben also established a new career high for sacks in a season.  The 50 sacks that he suffered in 2009 were the most in the NFL (tied with Aaron Rodgers).  His 50 sacks were 4 more than Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady suffered combined.  That’s right, Ben took more sacks than those 3 combined.  Think about that for a moment.  Moreover, think about how valuable Ben would be if he could cut his sack total in half.  Or if he could reduce his sacks to around 15 per year like the three quarterbacks mentioned previously.

Dennis Dixon proved that he is a viable backup for Big Ben last season when he had to start against Baltimore.  Dixon was kept on a tight leash in that game.  I’d love to see the Steelers turn him loose a bit this year.

Charlie Batch recently signed a new contract and will be back as a Steelers back-up quarterback.  Unlike last season, I think Batch will begin this season as #3 on the depth chart.  But I think that both he and the Steelers are comfortable with that idea.

What  should the Steelers do?

Nothing.  That’s right, the Steelers should do nothing.  At least as far as cutting Ben or trading him.

He is the first franchise quarterback that the team has had since Terry Bradshaw.  Franchise quarterbacks are EXTREMELY difficult to come by.  So once you have one, you do everything possible to keep him.  And you definitely don’t cut him or trade him to “send a message”.  You use wide receivers for that (e.g.  Cedrick Wilson and Santonio Holmes).

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that Ben should get off easy.  Even though he wasn’t found guilty of committing a crime, Ben still embarrassed the organization.  He showed poor judgment, and needs to do better in the future.

The organization has already spoken to Ben in private.  Sternly.  He will also probably suffer a suspension, and lose some money.  Those are things Ben understands.   But after that, I consider the issue to be over.

I don’t believe the Steelers are going to trade Ben.  They’re also not likely to draft a quarterback early in the upcoming draft.  They may take one late to compete for a backup position, but that’s about it.  Therefore, I’m not even going to bother discussing any of the quarterbacks who are available in this years NFL Draft.


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Dennis Dixon to start against Raven

November 29, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players, Pre-Game Analyses

Looks like the Steelers lost 3 times last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.  They lost the game, they lost starting QB Ben Roethlisberger to a head injury, and they lost backup QB Charlie Batch to a wrist injury.

With both Big Ben and Batch out for today’s game against the hated Baltimore Ravens, the game will now be in the hands of third string quarterback Dennis Dixon.

Dixon has made an appearance in a total of one NFL game in his 2-year NFL career.  During that game, he attempted 1 pass.  That pass was completed for a 3-yard gain.

This will be Dixon’s first NFL start.  Obviously, that would be a scary thing for just about any young quarterback.  But to make matters even worse, Dixon gets to do so against the Steelers’ AFC North nemesis - the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens have always played tough defense, and they won’t make it easy for Dixon.

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

We all remember what happened last year when Rashard Mendenhall made his first start against the Ravens.  Ray Lewis hit Mendenhall with a crushing blow that put him on the injured reserve for the rest of the season.  Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Should Dixon be hurt, the Steelers signed Tyler Palko from their practice squad to serve as the #2 quarterback.  Big Ben is listed as the #3 quarterback.  However, he can only play if both Dixon and Palko are injured and are unable to perform.

I’ve heard some fans say that the Steelers should use the Wildcat offense to take advantage of Dennis Dixon’s athleticism.  Let me be the first to say that that would be absolutely INSANE.

The Wildcat offense would allow the quarterback to take too many hits.  In case you haven’t noticed, Dennis Dixon is not built like Big Ben.  He only weighs 209 lbs., and it is a tall, lanky 209.  He would get killed in the Wildcat.  Moreover, if he got injured, then the Steelers playoff hopes would be in the hands of Tyler Palko.  Need I say more?

I think that even in 2009 fans often look at black quarterbacks and assume that they are more comfortable running the ball than throwing it.  But not all black quarterbacks are like Michael Vick.  Dennis Dixon certainly isn’t.

Prior to injuring his ACL during his last year in college, Dennis Dixon was leading Oregon to a potential national championship.  Moreover, he was the front-runner for the Heisman trophy.  The kid was a star, and NFL scouts were drooling over him.

Dixon was an accomplished passer at Oregon.  He has a powerful arm, and can make all of the throws.  In fact, prior to his injury, he was viewed as a better prospect than last years’ NFL freshmen sensations Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

All three quarterbacks came out of college the same year.  That year, Dennis Dixon had a QB rating of 161.19.  Joe Flacco’s QB rating was 144.91, and Matt Ryan’s was 127.04.  Advantage: Dixon.

Dennis Dixon’s pass completion percentage was 67.7%.  Joe Flacco’s was 63.5%, and Matt Ryan’s was 59.3%.  Advantage: Dixon.

Dennis Dixon threw 4 interceptions.  Joe Flacco threw 5, and Matt Ryan threw a whopping 19.  Advantage: Dixon.

Most impressive of all, Dixon averaged 8.4 yards per pass.  Joe Flacco averaged 8.2, and Matt Ryan averaged 6.9.  So not only was Dixon a more accurate passer than Flacco or Ryan, but he also tended to make longer passes than them.

I’m not saying that Dixon is going to play better than Joe Flacco in this game.  After all, Joe Flacco has a year of experience behind him, while Dixon will be making his first start.  But do not be confused about Dixon’s potential.  He is more than just a gadget quarterback.  He can stand in the pocket and pass the ball.  He just needs experience.

It looks like that experience begins today.


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Roethlisberger accused of sexual assault

July 21, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

So who says that the off-season has to be boring?

Steelers fans have been craving news about their beloved Black and Gold.  Unfortunately, this is probably not the news that they were hoping for.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been named in a civil lawsuit that alleges that he sexually assaulted a woman in a Las Vegas hotel room in July 2008.


“This weekend, Andrea McNulty served Ben Roethlisberger with a civil complaint accusing him of sexually assaulting her in July 2008″, said Atlanta-based sports attorney William David Cornwell Sr.  “Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone, especially Andrea McNulty”.

“The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct.  If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated”.

I don’t want to take sides on this matter.  After all, sexual assault is a serious matter.  The courts will decide Roethlisberger’s guilt or innocence.  However, it amazes me that in this “post-Kobe era”, that high profile athletes and entertainers still find themselves having sexual encounters with hotel employees.  Didn’t the Kobe Bryant incident teach anyone anything?

According to, “Roethlisberger and McNulty had a sexual liaison at the time but Ben insists it was purely consensual. We’re told the two knew each other because Ben had stayed at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe over the last several years for golf tournaments — and she worked at the hotel”.

According to the civil suit, McNulty, who works at the hotel, was asked by Roethlisberger to repair a broken TV.  Roethlisberger allegedly blocked her exit from the room and sexually assaulted her.

Once again, it is not my job to determine guilt or innocence in this matter.  However, if it is true that Roethlisberger did have sex with her (consensual or non-consensual), then he is not very bright.  After all, he is a famous athlete with a $100 million contract.  He has to scrutinize every potential sexual liaison with the assumption that an unscrupulous person may try to separate him from his money.  I am not saying that Ms. McNulty falls into this category.  Rather, I am saying that rich, famous celebrities need to assume that EVERYBODY falls into this category, and protect themselves accordingly.

Am I the only one who remembers Jerome Bettis being accused of similar charges by a woman in 2002?  Of course, those charges were dropped and Bettis was exonerated.  Nevertheless, that case should have served as a warning to all professional athletes that they are potential targets.  If it didn’t, then the Kobe Bryant case and the Mike Tyson case certainly should have.


The ironic part of this whole matter is that the lawsuit was filed in Reno, Nevada, a city that is famous for it’s legal prostitution.  I’m not condoning prostitution as an acceptable alternative.  But if an athlete finds himself in Nevada and he needs to get some, well……..

Training camp begins in 10 days.  Hopefully, this will not become a distraction for Ben or the other players.  Unfortunately, I don’t see how it can serve as anything but a distraction.

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Scouting Matt Cassel

November 28, 2008 By: Admin Category: Lists, Pre-Game Analyses

This week, the Steelers must face the New England Patriots, led by surprising quarterback Matt Cassel.  Prior to this season, many fans had probably never heard of Matt Cassel.  When Tom Brady went down with an injury, most fans probably wrote off the Patriots.  But Matt Cassel has played extremely well, and passed for back-to-back 400+ yard games.  More importantly, the Patriots are 7-4, and are in contention for a wildcard playoff spot.

Most Steelers fans are probably asking “who is this Matt Cassel guy?  Isn’t he a scrub who hadn’t started a game since high school”?  Well, the answer to that question is “yes and no”.  It IS true that prior to this season, Matt Cassel hadn’t started a game since high school.  However, it is not necessarily true that he is a scrub.

Coming out of high school, Cassel was ranked as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country.  As a result, he was recruited by Pete Carroll to play at USC, one of the most prestigious programs in the nation.  Cassel probably would have become a starter if he had chosen to attend any other school that recruited him other than USC.

While at USC, Cassel spent his entire career as a backup to Heisman trophy winners.  Cassel started his college career as a backup to Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer.  He ended his college career as backup to another USC Heisman Trophy winner, Matt Leinart.

Despite having never started a game in college, pro scouts recognized Cassel’s potential.  At 6’4″ and 230 lbs., he had nice size.  More importantly, he had a strong arm.  Ultimately, he was drafted in the seventh round by the New England Patriots.

Many fans thought it was a fluke when Cassel passed for 400 yards against the New York Jets two weeks ago.  When he followed that game up with a 415 yard passing game against the Miami Dolphins last week, suddenly Cassel could no longer be taken lightly.

Most Steelers fans would probably agree that Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback.  Nevertheless, Roethlisberger has never thrown for 400 yards in an NFL game.  Cassel has done it twice in the past 2 weeks.  In fact, Cassel leads Roethlisberger in almost every statistical category this year.

Cassel is 8th in the NFL in passing yardage with 2,615 yards.  Roethlisberger is 17th with 2,233 yards.  Matt Cassel is ranked #10 with a passer rating of 90.5, while Roethlisberger is ranked 21st with a passer rating of 80.5.  Cassel has thrown 13 touchdown passes this year.  Big Ben has 11.  Cassel has completed 66.3% of his passes.  Roethlisberger has completed 61.6%.  Cassel has thrown 24 passes this year that were for 20 yards or more.  Big Ben has only thrown 20 passes for 20+ yards.  The only important category that Big Ben leads Matt Cassel in is interceptions.  Big Ben has thrown 11 interceptions, while Matt Cassel has only thrown 8.  Oh wait, that’s bad, isn’t it?  Ummmm, forget that last one.

Since Big Ben is a franchise quarterback, and Matt Cassel’s statistics are better than Big Ben’s, Matt Cassel must also be a franchise quarterback, right?  Moreover, since Cassel’s stats are better than Roethlisberger’s he must be a better quarterback than Big Ben.  Make sense?  Actually, no.  It doesn’t make sense.

Let’s look at Matt Cassel’s accomplishments a little closer.  Matt Cassel has never faced a passing defense that was ranked in the top 1/3 of NFL.  The best passing defense that he’s faced is the Indianapolis Colts, and he lost that game.  The best defense that he has actually beaten is the 6-5 Buffalo Bills’ defense.  The Bill’s passing defense is ranked #16 in the NFL (out of 32 teams).  That means that they are just barely in the top half of NFL passing defenses.

The Bills’ defense gives up 211.5 passing yards per game, and they have a total of 18 sacks.  By comparison, the Steelers defense is ranked #1 in the NFL against the pass and against the run.  The Steelers allow a measly 168 passing yards per game, and they’ve accumulated a total of 37 sacks.  Translation:  Matt Cassel has been playing against JV defenses.  This Sunday, he’ll be facing his first varsity squad.

While many teams were unprepared for Cassel, after two consecutive 400+ yard passing performances, the Steelers will not take him lightly.  Coach Dick LeBeau will have his defense ready to teach Cassel a thing or two.  The Steelers are likely to try to confuse Cassel by constantly shifting their defensive looks right up to the time of the snap.  More importantly, the Steelers have one of the few cornerbacks in the league who has the size and speed to shadow Randy Moss.  With Ike Taylor taking away some of the advantage that Moss usually enjoys, it is going to make Cassel work much harder for his yards than he usually has to.

With his home run target partially neutralized, Cassel is going to have to spend more time searching for his second and third passing options.  This will give the Steelers’ pitbulls, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, time to get to Cassel.  Cassel has already been sacked 34 times this season.  That’s even more sacks than Big Ben has taken, and we all know that Ben gets sacked waaayyyyyyy too often.  So while Matt Cassel will enter the game with 34 sacks, he’s not likely to leave the game with 34.  36 or 37 is far more likely.

The one X-factor that might change the complexion of the game is Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick.  For those of you who don’t know, I don’t like Bill Belichick.  Besides being a cheater, Belichick is also a Steelers killer.  He has a knack for creating perfect game plans for facing the Steelers.  There is little doubt in my mind that Belichick will have Cassel and the rest of the Patriots well prepared for this game.  The fact that the game is being played in New England won’t help either.

The bottom line is that Matt Cassel is a decent young quarterback.  However, he has never faced a defense like the one that he’s going to be facing this weekend.  Bill Belichick will have him well prepared, but it won’t make a difference.  The Steelers are going to beat the Patriots.  The only quarterback who can potentially change that outcome is Ben Roethlisberger, not Matt Cassel.

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