The Pittsburgh Steelers hoped to find clarity at quarterback in Sunday night's third and most important preseason game against the Denver Broncos. Instead, Pittsburgh has more questions than answers with less than two weeks before the start of the regular season.
Pittsburgh suffered a 34-17 exhibition loss to the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field. But the score wasn't nearly as significant as the performance of the Steelers' two quarterbacks: Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich. Both players struggled in their "dress rehearsal" game.
With Ben Roethlisberger serving a conditional six-game suspension, Pittsburgh's quarterback situation doesn't look good.
Dixon, who has one career start, struggled in his debut with the first-team offense. Despite playing lights out against backups this preseason, he did not look comfortable against Denver's starting unit. Dixon made two poor decisions on first-half interceptions to Perrish Cox and Andre Goodman, who returned his pick for a touchdown. Dixon settled down in the second half. But his inconsistency is what scares Pittsburgh's coaching staff and could keep him out of the quarterback race. The Steelers will have to win conservatively on offense without Roethlisberger. Dixon finished 9 of 16 for 94 yards and two interceptions.
Leftwich also has struggled at times this preseason. He played with the first- and second-team offense Sunday and finished 0-for-4. Leftwich also lacks mobility and was hit several times in the backfield. In three preseason games, he's a pedestrian 9-for-20 for 138 yards and a touchdown.
But "pedestrian" could be enough to win the Steelers' quarterbacking job. That may also be the best way to describe Pittsburgh's passing offense this season without Roethlisberger.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will meet with Roethlisberger on Friday, and Roethlisberger likely will get his suspension reduced from six games to four. Based on Sunday's performance, that suspension couldn't end soon enough for Pittsburgh.
Here are some other notes and observations on the Steelers:
Roethlisberger was solid in limited playing time. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 67 yards and led the Steelers to a field goal in the first quarter. It's a good sign for Pittsburgh that "Big Ben" has remained sharp despite limited reps and playing time.
Pittsburgh rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer is making a late push for a roster spot. He led the Steelers with 89 rushing yards and a touchdown. Dwyer, a sixth-round pick, had a disappointing training camp and remains on the roster bubble.
It was not a good start for second-year cornerback Keenan Lewis, who replaced the injured Bryant McFadden Sunday. Lewis was beat on several plays and had a personal foul penalty that earned a tongue lashing from coach Mike Tomlin and a place on the bench.
Fourth-string quarterback Charlie Batch made some nice plays, including a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to rookie receiver Antonio Brown. But Batch also threw a pick six to Denver cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, capping off a mediocre night for Pittsburgh's quarterbacks.