So that was rather unpleasant.
Dennis Dixon got his chance to prove to the world why he should be the Steelers starting quarterback for the first quarter of the season while Ben Roethlisberger sits in timeout. Instead of furthering his case for the job, he turned in a pretty decent Kordell Stewart impression.
Dixon looked flummoxed. His decision making was extremely poor. While he guided the team on three long drives, they all ended in turnovers - two on horrible interceptions and a turnover on downs when Dixon failed to convert a 4th and 1 in the 3rd quarter.
There is no excuse for the first interception. It was a textbook example of trying to force a pass in desperation when nothing is available. There was no chance he was going to drill the ball in the corner of the endzone to Matt Spaeth through two defenders. The kid likely felt pressure to make something big happen in his shot with the starting offense, but no intelligent quarterback makes that throw.
Emmanuel Sanders has to share blame for the second interception that was run back for six, as he got caught flat-footed. Still, it was a route the Steelers had already run earlier on that very drive, and it was nearly intercepted on the first attempt. Obviously, Arians gets the blame for running the play again, but at this point in his career, Dixon isn't experienced enough to audible out of that play or look for other options, which is why you're going to see Byron Leftwich under center in two weeks against the Falcons.
It wasn't only Dixon who struggled with the first unit. Keenan Lewis evoked every dreadful image of William Gay's cornerback play last season, with a pair of mindless personal foul penalties thrown in for good measure. There have been a lot of reports that Lewis should push Bryant McFadden for a starting job, but once he returns from injury, it's safe to say that McFadden's job is safe.
Gay, however, made an impressive interception on Kyle Orton. I think Gay will thrive in his return to the nickelback role. I've heard a lot of his struggles last year being attributed to overconfidence. I can't speak to that, but it sounds plausible enough. What he went through last year - both in terms of experience and some necessary humbling - should make Gay a much better role player in 2010. Of course, one interception in the preseason doesn't necessarily mean the corner has been turned, but it's an encouraging sign, for sure.
Except for back-to-back false start penalties on Max Starks and Flozell Adams, the line looked better than it had in the earlier preseason games. Pouncey looks ready at center. I had initially worried that moving him to center now might create a slight upgrade at that position while costing the team at right guard, but if so, that wasn't apparent on Sunday night.
I have to say I'm more excited for Mike Wallace now than I was for Santonio after his rookie season. As speedy as he is, Wallace will probably never be as good in the open field as Santonio, but at this point, he looks like he'll be better on the deep ball, and not prone to the same mental screw-ups.
It's hard to gauge the overall performance of the defense. If not for the stupid penalties, they probably would have fared better, but it's hard to say with any certainty. Lewis will likely get a ton of shit for the two stupid fouls he committed. The flag on Silverback was kind of ticky tack, so I'm not going to be incredibly worried that the team is going to be riddled with penalties this year. Of course, these aren't things you want to see in the dress rehearsal preseason game.
Sepulveda isn't shining on kickoff duty, but they might as well put him on kick coverage. He's been the most tenacious tackler on punt coverage probably all preseason.
Jonathan Dwyer finally had a good showing in Isaac Redman duty against the scrubs.
Rashard Mendenhall did pretty well for a guy with a broken arm (DIAF, Mark Madden).
For all the dumping on Dixon, it's not like Byron Leftwich instilled much confidence once he entered the game in the second half. I'm willing to believe that had more to do with apathy. He's going against a second team defense, and after the performance Dixon had just put on, he couldn't have felt like there was a lot of pressure on him to dazzle anyone.