Former Super Bowl-winning-coach-turned ESPN analyst Jon Gruden has a suggestion for Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in choosing his replacement quarterback during Ben Roethlsiberger's suspension.
Go with Little Ben.
That would be Dennis Dixon, the third-year, two-way threat who can replicate some of Roethlisberger's free-wheeling, play-making when the pocket disintegrates.
Veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are also in the mix.
The Steelers confirmed that commissioner Roger Goodell will sit down with Roethlisberger on Friday to determine the extent of his suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. Goodell is originally set the ban at 4-6 games, with latitude to change it based on how well he feels Roethlisberger responded to behavioral counseling and other guidelines orginally.
"The Steelers are a team that really relies on Ben Roethlisberger's improvisation,'' Gruden said Wednesday during a Monday Night Football conference call. "I've never seen a guy create more offense on his own. He gets out of some of the most incredible situations where he makes plays where they have him sacked twice and he still completes a pass.
"The guy who fits them the best right now, the guy I would go with is Dixon.''
Why is that?
The third-year quarterback out of Oregon who has been developing in Bruce Arians' system has the skill set that gives the Steelers the chance to stay with the same offensive style.
Despite his two-interception hiccup in Pittsburgh's preseason loss to Denver, Gruden thinks the Steelers can tailor a gameplan around Dixon to survive what he calls, "a winnable" stretch of opening games. Gruden pointed to the way the team relied on the run game and its defensive bedrock when Roethlisberger was forced to step in as a rookie and start 13 games in 2004 following Tommy Maddox's elbow injury.
"Dixon has mobility, he's been there in that system,'' Gruden said. "I realize he threw a couple of interceptions against Denver ... I just think his escapability, his ability to run for two first downs, create another two first downs scrambling out of trouble, checking it down, or finding a big play down the field gives him the edge over these other two quarterbacks.
The Steelers host Atlanta, play at Tennessee and Tampa Bay and the host Baltimore in their first four games. After a bye week, they host Cleveland and then travel to Miami before potentially getting Roethlisberger back.
"All they have to do is win like they won in Ben's rookie year, run the ball, play good defense -- don't turn it over and make some timely plays in the passing game," Gruden says."
"Dennis Dixon can do that.''
One thing Jaworski's MNF colleague Ron Jaworski says is critical for Roethisberger being ready upon his return is that he find a group of receivers who can run and replicate the Steelers' route tree since he will be banned from working out with the Steelers during his suspension absence.
"Keeping himself in shape is absolutely critical,'' Jaworski says.
-- Jim Corbett