View Full Version : Using Steelers' Dixon like using spare tire

09-08-2010, 12:37 AM
Collier: Using Steelers' Dixon like using spare tire
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Officially, the National Football League season does not begin until Thursday night in New Orleans with the first kickoff of a long Kickoff Weekend, but, for me, it always starts the moment the head coach of the Steelers throws out the ceremonial first Tomlinism at his first regular weekly media irrigation.

Only when I hear the haunting September siren that the Steelers plan to be "thoughtfully non-rhythmic," in their approach to something am I assured that the NFL's planet is rotating reliably on its axis. It's a natural and necessary counterpoint to my own plans, it happens, which are so much closer to being rhythmically non-thoughtful.

While the quarterback situation locally has just gone to a Stage 3 Civic Emergency (I believe the G-20 fracas was contained at Stage 2), Mike Tomlin again turned up calm and linguistically capable Tuesday afternoon in a sky blue dress shirt and silver cufflinks, dealing his off the cufflinks analysis much in the manner he said he would like to see Dennis Dixon operate against the Atlanta Falcons in the opener just four days off: "fluid, natural, comfortable."

That's why he misplaced nary a single modifier in rattling off typical observations praising Falcons defensive end John Abraham as "a disruptive force," Falcons defensive tackle Kroy Bierman as "a relentless pursuer of the football," and Falcons running back Michael Turner as the kind of a player who will necessitate a "hit and wrap-up week," for the Steelers' defense, to say nothing of the imperative to get "multiple hats to the ball."

So it was more than a little illuminating, I thought, to hear the head coach describe the general atmosphere at 3400 South Water Streets as "very edgy."

That's because, no matter what anyone in the organization might say between here and 1 p.m. Sunday, they simply don't know what they're going to see from a Bruce Arians offense that will be operating on the quarterback equivalent of one of those little donut spare tires.

In a Steelers season nearly talked to death before it began mostly due to One Night In Milledgeville, nothing has driven home Tomlin's predicament quite like the early betting line on Falcons at Steelers.

Atlanta minus 2 1/2.

I pay virtually no attention to wagering info, but I've rarely seen a point spread look so much like a typo.

The Steelers have never lost at home to the Falcons and have not lost an opener of any stripe in eight years, but, when you're down to the third and/or fourth quarterback, history appears doomed to not repeat itself. You can argue the merits of Dixon vs. Charlie Batch until the suspendee comes home, and you can hope that the wounded knee of Byron Leftwich will heal itself to the point where it is soon again relevant to the discussion, but the truth is that Dixon, Batch and Leftwich share one immutable similarity -- they are not No. 7.

Worse, Tomlin and offensive coordinator Arians have cobbled together a game plan amid the unsettling knowledge that no one who throws the ball in this locker room has a winning record as a starter.

Now they know how John Russell must feel.

In this kind of quarterback murk, the receivers' paths to glory aren't exactly innumerable, which is why I asked former record-breaking (at William & Mary) wideout Mike Tomlin what his receivers might be feeling here in Weak 1.

"Nothing if they're getting the ball," Tomlin chuckled. "If they're not getting the ball, they're sometimes capable of making a big deal out of it. At least, that's what my experience tells me. That's the kind of guy I was."

So this isn't to second-guess the decision to start Dixon as the first attempt at disaster relief. I'm willing to allow that a Super Bowl winning coach and an offensive staff with 126 years of experience working pretty much 'round the clock might have a better read on what to do in this situation than a columnist who can barely keep his dog in the yard. But no one knows, or should pretend to know, what Dixon will do in only his second professional start against, you know, relentless pursuers of the football, oh my.

It's not likely to be pretty.

Let's just say, as Tomlin would, that the Heinz Field audience should likely take advantage of any and all hydration opportunities.

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