Sunday, November 29, 2009

COMPELLING STORY LINES ABOUND AS STEELERS FACE RAVENS ON SUNDAY NITE

Following the NFL each week is much the same as following a soap opera on daytime television: Who's hurt, who's better, who's not talking to who, who got "divorced", who's getting rich, who's losing the farm...you get the picture.

On Sunday night, America's "new" favorite team went into their game against the hated "(Br)avens having a situation that althought not unprecedented, is certainly one this franchise has not faced at least since the days when Art Rooney Sr. was still chomping on cigars and playing the ponies. 

In one horrible afternoon, the SuperBowl champs last week managed to: A) Lose to the miserable Chiefs B) Allow another kickoff return for a touchdown C) Send Big Ben's brain to "La La land" and D) Have their China doll backup quarterback injured in his first series. The results of that disastrous day have suddenly cast a pall over the entire season.

In the aftermath of the Rothliesberger head injury, the reports all week naturally centered on Ben's condition. Amazingly paralleling the circumstances in Arizona with Kurt Warner, after both starters practiced all week, both men decided to withdraw on Friday. While Ben may have had every intention of playing, perhaps he was hiding his headache and hoping it would go away. While trying to "play through it" in practice, what Big Ben didn't realize was that his bravado was actually hurting his team. Every snap that he took with the first team was one less that his backup, Dennis Dixon, a man who has thrown only one pass before in a regular season game, wasn't getting. As a result, Dixon got one full day's work with the starting offense though he did get some reps early in the week.




ABOVE: Dennis Dixon has quite the exquisite set of wheels, but would only be asked to use them in the most dire of circumstances. On the bench as his backup is former Pitt QB Tyler Palko, a player who has had all of 72 hours to first view the playbook. Behind Palko at "emergency" quarterback is Ben Roethliesberger who might indeed be needing another trip to the emergency room if he has to enter this game.

Having Dixon thrown into the "Lion's Den" in Baltimore is certainly great fodder for the media, however, and a very compelling story. Here you have a former Oregon Duck who was a serious Heisman Trophy candidate until he suffered a knee injury, a fellow who has looked good in several preseason opportunities. Now he finds himself on a Sunday night national broadcast looking a menacing "Cousin Ray Ray" in the eye across the line of scrimmage.

Hanging in the balace, if the Ravens lose this game their chances for the playoffs are seriously dimmed even more than they already are. For the Steelers, a once-promising season could continue to unravel.

An untried, untested, backup would be the determining factor. The smart money would not be on the side of Dixon pulling it off, although this kid has a lot of moxie. While the odds against it are great, the Steelers in a sense also have their backs to the wall too. I expect the entire offense to rally around Dixon, having pull him through this monumental challenge. Can Dixon do it? Does he have the patience to deal with a pro pass rush? Can he avoid the dreaded Ed Reed interception?

This is compelling stuff and this game will prove to be one of the most interesting Steeler games since, oh, last February...

Think about it for a minute: You have two hated rivals, who are already both backed into their respective corners, going at it on national t.v. with a rookie at the helm of the Steelers. If this matchup involved dogs, there'd be jailtime also hanging in the balance potentially for all of the participants and viewers. Thank goodness the NFL only uses humans.

DENNIS DIXON COLLEGE AWARDS

Finalist for the Associated Press Player of the Year
Finalist for the Maxwell Award (College Player of the Year)
Finalist for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award
Finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award
Bill Hayward Amateur Athlete of the Year award
ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District quarterback
National Football Foundation's Scholar-Athlete Award recipient
All-American honorable mention
Three-time Pacific-10 Offensive player of the week
National Player of the Week for his winning performance at Michigan by Rivals.com, USA Today and AP

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