November 28, 2009
Big news from the Twitter account of FOXSports.com's Jay Glazer -- Ben Roethlisberger(notes) will not play against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday night. Glazer reports that Big Ben has been experiencing "exercise induced headaches", and the Steelers have shut him down. Roethlisberger was kneed in the head late in the Steelers' overtime loss to the Chiefs last Sunday, and Charlie Batch(notes) finished the game. But with Batch now out anywhere from two to six weeks with a broken left wrist, the starting spot will be taken by former Oregon option quarterback Dennis Dixon(notes). Selected by the Steelers in the fifth round in the 2008 draft, Dixon has thrown one NFL pass in his short career. He's received a lot of starting looks in practice, and the Steelers' predilection for shotgun formations and bunching their receivers in short clearout routes will play to Dixon's strengths to a degree.
However, the overall task -- beating the Baltimore Ravens on the road in the first of two crucial matchups against their divisional rivals -- will be a very tall order. Baltimore's defense isn't what it's been in previous years (especially the secondary), but head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged to the media this week that the offense will have to adjust. "I've been very pleased with Dennis's progress as a third quarterback," Tomlin said earlier this week when asked about Dixon possibly starting. "That's different, of course, than playing against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night television. No question that we would have to do some things to help him. If he plays in this game, and plays extensively in this game, we have to do some things schematically."
Perhaps the Steelers will try some of the counter option looks that Vince Young(notes) and the Tennessee Titans have used so effectively in the last month? With increased use of the shotgun formation and option plays in the last few years, the NFL seems prepared to meet quarterbacks like Dixon halfway in ways that would not have been possible before. Dixon flashed arm strength and accuracy at the college level and in pro workouts, but as Tomlin said, facing the Ravens is an entirely different matter. The Steelers beat the Ravens three times last season in closely-contested games, and both teams are in a fight for playoff contention. Baltimore will have a target on Dixon's back, and Dixon's teammates will have to make up the difference in experience and skill level without Roethlisberger in the picture.
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