On a night in which Mother Nature got the fans out of their seats with a storm, Dennis Dixon was able to do the same with his play.
More importantly, he made the case to get the starting job over Byron Leftwich.
It was not purely Dixon’s play that could earn him the starting job, but instead the poor play of the starting offensive line.
Leftwich stood no chance in the Steelers preseason opener as he was hit and sacked early and often en route to a six of 10 passing performance for 43 yards. He looked slow and indecisive behind a line that struggled against the pass rush of the Detroit Lions.
Of most concern on the line was newly acquired right tackle Flozell Adams. Known for being a strong run blocker and a weak pass blocker, Adams lived up to his reputation, allowing Cliff Avril to blow right by him for a sack.
If this is a sign of things to come for Pittsburgh’s line, Leftwich will not have an opportunity to succeed.
Dixon, on paper, had a great performance, finishing six of seven passing for 128 and a touchdown while recording a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
These numbers were greatly enhanced by a 51-yard catch and run by Arnaz Battle, who is solidifying his roster spot and a 68-yard touchdown pass to sixth round rookie Antonio Brown, who made a case for himself to make the roster.
Brown finished the game as the leading receiver with three receptions for 84 yards.
Just as he showed in training camp, Dixon more often than not looked for the short pass and while he ran for 31 yards on six carries, these runs were a result of not going through all of his progressions before taking off.
Dixon was matched up against second, third, and fourth stringers of a team who only managed two wins last season. He will have to perform better with his arm against a better defense if he wants to succeed.
However, after watching Leftwich being helpless behind the line, it may be worth giving Dixon a shot with the starting lineup next week to see how he can perform against higher quality competition.
Bruce Arians did a nice job of moving Dixon out of the pocket and these types of plays may be necessary for the Steelers to generate any type of offense.
But if head coach Mike Tomlin continues to go with Leftwich, he will have to make adjustments to the offensive line.
The first change should come with Maurkice Pouncey.
Pouncey asserted himself as center when he entered the lineup on the Steelers' third drive.
Justin Hartwig and Adams were taken out for Pouncey and Jonathan Scott respectively.
Though the offensive line was matched up against the Lions second string at this point, the entire unit improved its play and this improvement was felt from the center position.
The line was able to open up plenty of holes for Isaac Redman, who ran for a game high 60 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown.
Pouncey was a larger part of this, both figuratively and literally. He was consistently creating movement in the middle and was even making blocks downfield on a 31-yard run by Redman.
There was no mistake that Pouncey stepped in at center first before switching to right guard later in the game. He is another player who should get an opportunity to start before the preseason is over.
With Pouncey in the lineup, the Steelers will have a much better offensive line. He is the real deal.
- Rookie receivers Brown and Emmanuel Sanders both had good games, particularly Brown. The Steelers have two very good receiving prospects that may be able to contribute this year.
- Ziggy Hood showed push several times on the offensive line and will be a good contributor this year.
- Stevenson Sylvester was always around the ball, though missed three tackles. Thaddeus Gibson also flashed some of his skills.
- Keenan Lewis played okay, but was matched up against a very good Calvin Johnson. Fellow second year cornerback Joe Burnett performed very well as did rookie Crezdon Butler.
- Keyaron Fox is a force in defending the run.
- Kraig Urbik is a much better in game player than practice player. Tony Hills maybe had his best game as a pro.
- Jonathan Dwyer had a disappointing performance, looking slow and indecisive, but he did not have much room to run.
- Rashard Mendenhall had a great start, then fumbled a ball and dropped a pass.
- Trai Essex pretty much handled second overall pick Ndamukong Suh the entire time he was in.
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