Mike Tomlin ended all speculation and defied some conventional wisdom by naming Dennis Dixon as his starting quarterback for the Steelers opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
To be clear from the outset, I think that Mike Tomlin is making a mistake as the case for starting Charlie Batch is strong and should win the day on the merits.
But there are two sides to each coin, so let’s look at both.
The Case for Charlie
Charlie Batch is a 12 year NFL veteran who has been with the Steelers since 2002. He’s 3-1 as a starter in Pittsburgh. Batch is a locker room leader who commands respect from his teammates.
However, Batch has played sparingly. In six seasons of active service Batch has only throw 135 passes.
But Batch has made his passes count.
The mean of his passing averages is 54%, which might not sound high, but a couple of seasons when he went 1-2 drag that down a lot. More importantly, he’s thrown 7 touchdowns and only 4 picks. This might not sound impressive but several of those picks came in garbage time and/or meaningless games.
And that is probably the most compelling reason to start him now. He is a veteran, who seldom makes the mistakes that only a quarterback can make to lose a game.
That is sufficient reason to start Batch.
The Back Side to Batch
Batch is brittle. He’s missed the 2004 and 2008 seasons due to injury. He broke his thumb in 2005 after playing just a game and a half. He also broke his wrist in less than 4 minutes of action against Kansas City last year.
This past summer, by his own account, Batch did not take a single snap with the starting unit. Experience can make up for lack of repetitions…. To a point.
Defending The Dixon Decision
The negatives against Dixon are his inexperience and that has shown. He was obviously lost last year against Baltimore when he got beyond the first several plays that coaches had scripted for him.
By all accounts, his performance against Denver’s first string was plagued by mistakes.
But Dixon does have an upside.
He is mobile, and that trait will serve him well against an offensive line whose pass protection remains a work in progress (put charitably.)
His mobility gives him, and the Steelers offense, a chance to by dynamic, (assuming to Arians does not attempt to put Dennis Dixon on too tight of a leash.)
Dixon has spent far more time with the Steelers first unit than Batch.
Beyond that, you have the fact that Byron Leftwich is expected to be out for a week or two. Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette observed that Tomlin’s decision not to put Leftwich on IR or waive him indicates that he sees Leftwich as his long term back up.
It is no secret that Tomlin likes Leftwich. When Batch broke his collarbone in 2008, Mike Tomlin wanted Leftwich on his team because he felt that Leftwich was capable of taking the Steelers to the Super Bowl should Ben suffer a long term injury.
The Steelers will likely have to make a roster move once Ben finishes his suspension, and that move will likely be to waive Batch. Is there logic in starting a guy on week one that you know you’re probably going to cut on week five?
Mike Tomlin does not coach scared. Tomlin does not quiver when adversity confronts him, and the decision to start Dixon serves as the latest example.
Summing it All Up
The Post-Gazette’s Gerry DuLac spoke in favor of Batch, arguing that it is easier for a young player to come in and “rescue” the team should Batch falter than it would be for Dixon to handle all of the pressure of starting.
That makes a lot of sense.
But the flip side is also true.
If Dixon runs into have trouble, all of the assets that Batch brings to the table will still be available.
In the final analysis, Charlie Batch gives the Steelers the best chance to win while Leftwich and Roethlisberger are unavailable therefore he should start.
But than Mike Tomlin knows more about the Steelers than all others reading this blog, and for that reason alone, his decision should command a healthy level of respect from Steelers Nation.