Ben Roethlisberger still doesn’t dazzle. He still doesn’t overwhelm with statistics or athletic brilliance or exceptional passing skills.
All Roethlisberger does is what he has done since entering the league – he repeatedly turns plays that look as if they’re going nowhere into big gains.
And that is where you have to start in examining the Browns’ efforts to try and keep Roethlisberger from beating them with big throws Thursday night.
A Browns defensive front that is still reeling from allowing Baltimore’s Ray Rice to run for 204 yards now must prepare to do a whole lot of containing. It will be imperative for defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell to do as much as possible to keep Roethlisberger from getting outside of the pocket, which is where he will continually drift to keep plays alive.
Meanwhile, the interior of the Browns’ defense needs to get as much penetration as it can to collapse the front of the pocket and, if there is good containment, enhance his chances of being sacked or at least get him out of his rhythm.
Roethlisberger had what, for him, was a typical performance in the Steelers’ 35-7 victory against Cincinnati last Sunday. He threw for only 176 yards, but he had two touchdowns to his most dangerous receiver, Mike Wallace. On the first, Roethlisberger rolled to his right, extended the play, and eventually connected with Wallace in the end zone. Roethlisberger also threw no interceptions and had a passer rating of 117.3.
No other quarterback in the league does it quite the way Roethlisberger does. There are much better runners, such as Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. There are much better passers, such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees.
But there isn’t anyone who shares Roethlisberger’s incredible knack for feeling pressure. There isn’t anyone who shares his instincts for knowing when to take off and where to go to make a play.
For defenses that face the Steelers, the trouble usually begins the moment Roethlisberger starts moving out of the pocket while still scanning the field in search of an open receiver. Being a receiver for the Steelers means expecting this to happen on most pass plays. And the longer the play develops, the better the chances of a receiver shaking free for a deep throw. Although Roethlisberger has been sacked 35 times, he is as difficult as any quarterback to get to the ground. At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, he has the strength to pretty much shake off the biggest and strongest of defenders.
Besides working to keep Roethlisberger in the middle of the pocket, the Browns’ pass-rushers must also concentrate on wrapping him up high. Going low is only likely to allow Big Ben to escape and keep the play moving until he connects for a long gain.
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