Monday, September 6, 2010

The Dixon Effect - What the Steelers Lose Without Big Ben

 I have the Steelers projected to win a boat load of games this year, 12 to be exact, which is the highest
projected total on my list. It has been suggested that I am nuts to have the rates so highly with Big Ben sitting out the first four games of the season and Byron Leftwich out with an injury. This has left Dennis Dixon as the starter and Charlie Batch as the primary alternative (just a note, they probably could have added Leinart to the mix here, yet by all indications no serious thought  was given to this option).

So what exactly will the Dixon Effect be and how significant will it be on the Steelers' prospecting for winning in the first four weeks. The real problem with trying to make this determination is that Dixon has essentially no NFL experience, so nothing to concretely gauge what we should expect from him. With no real data to work from, I went to the facts that we do know: he was a 5th round pick, he is 25, he will be starting the season and likely playing 4 games and going back to the bench and he has almost no prior experience. This information actually describes a reasonable number of NFl QBs that can help put some parameters on Dixon's likely performance. Since 1980 20 QBs have fit this rough description and while some will give the Steeler faithful hope (Marc Bulger, ok maybe Bulger is the only serious hope on the list) most are in the Koy Detmer/Rusty Hilger model.

Player  Year  Cmp  Att  Cmp% 
Eric Hipple  1982 36 86 0.419
Paul McDonald  1983 32 68 0.471
Mark Herrmann  1984 29 56 0.518
Steve Bono  1987 34 74 0.459
Steve Pelluer  1987 55 101 0.545
Rusty Hilger  1987 55 106 0.519
Kevin Sweeney  1988 33 78 0.423
Mark Vlasic  1988 25 52 0.481
Stan Humphries  1990 91 156 0.583
Scott Zolak  1992 52 100 0.52
Scott Mitchell  1993 133 233 0.571
Cary Conklin  1993 46 87 0.529
Rob Johnson  1998 67 107 0.626
Koy Detmer  1998 97 181 0.536
Moses Moreno  2000 27 53 0.509
Marc Bulger  2002 138 214 0.645
A.J. Feeley  2002 86 154 0.558
Jesse Palmer  2003 60 116 0.517
Cody Pickett  2005 14 35 0.4
Dan Orlovsky  2008 143 255 0.561

What this means for the Steelers is that they can reasonable expect Dixon to complete about 54% of his passes (Big Ben has a career average of 63%), turn 3.6% of his attempts into TDs (5.3% for Big Ben) and be intercepted on 3.9% of his attempts (3.4% for Big Ben) with an average of 6.3 yards per attempt (8 Y/Att for Big Ben).

The yards per attempt difference is large and is likely directly connected to the difference in TD%. As the int% is roughly equal, the biggest impact then will be on the offense's ability to score points. Assuming the Steelers throw on 35 to 40 plays against their week one opponent (Falcons), they will probably score about 4 fewer points due to Big Ben's suspension. As I have the Steelers winning that game rather decisively (26 to 14 with nearly 90% confidence) a drop in offensive output of even 5 points still has them winning by a touchdown, even if Dixon turns out to be Moses Moreno or Cody Pickett. 

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