by Kevin Goheen
December 2, 2011
Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Steelers won 24-17. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Bengals sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times the last time the teams played three weeks ago. They could have used a couple of more.
While the Bengals got consistent pressure on the Pittsburgh quarterback throughout the game, Roethlisberger escaped enough times and extended enough plays with his feet before finishing them off with his arm to help the Steelers pull out a 24-17 win on Nov. 13 at Paul Brown Stadium.
That’s the Roethlisberger Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis has said is playing at an MVP-type level. That’s the Roethlisberger the Bengals (7-4) are going to have to contain if they are to beat the Steelers (8-3) at Heinz Field Sunday.
Roethlisberger has completed 245-of-385 passes for 3,070 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season and is on pace to better his own franchise records for attempts and yards in a season while adding the single-season completion mark to his resume. It’s not those raw statistics that gains Lewis’ attention, however.
“He is totally the catalyst of their offense and their football team,” said Lewis. “He makes (Kansas City linebacker) Derrick Johnson miss in the pocket last week and throws a perfect pass to a very well-covered tight end. He extends the play enough that the tight end was able to come open late, and he makes a perfect pass where only one guy can catch it. Those are things that maybe go unnoticed at times but are truly fine football plays.”
Roethlisberger has long been one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. He’s led the Steelers to two Super Bowl championships and a runner-up finish last season but at this time last year he was rehabilitating a reputation of being an immature, spoiled star athlete.
He was involved in a motorcycle accident in 2006 that resulted in a broken jaw and nose when he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Twice in his career he has been accused of sexual misconduct, although on neither occasion were charges brought against him. The NFL did suspend him for the first four games of last season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
He was married this past offseason. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said too much is made of Roethlisberger’s personal life being a factor in his on-field performance but the fact is the only topic of discussion on Roethlisberger this year is his play.
“You watch the first game and it came down to three or four plays; that was the difference,” said Phil Simms, who will be the analyst for Sunday’s game for CBS. “It’s not all about his scrambling. The thing that goes unnoticed is how he can hang in there and his ability to change speeds on his throws. There were a couple of throws he really fired in there in the first game. He definitely is one of the top five quarterbacks in the league.”
Statistically he’s in the top 10 of most passing categories, including having the third-highest passer rating (107.7) on third downs. Even though he has been sacked 32 times this season – second most in the NFL – his scrambling abilities have proven valuable at those moments.
“(I’m trying) Not to get killed,” said Roethlisberger about his frequent trips out of the pocket. “It’s not planned. I’d much rather not do it but if I can extend a play because it’s so hard for defenders to cover guys during the course of the regular couple of seconds of a play let alone when you extend a play. It’s just really hard to do it. So many times our big plays come from that but it’s never an intended thing.”
The Steelers are throwing the ball on 60 percent of their play calls this season; they threw it 53 percent of the time last season. It is the highest percentage of passing plays the Steelers have called since Roethlisberger became the starter two games into his rookie season of 2004.
Only in 2009 have the Steelers been close to this pass-heavy of an offense; they threw the ball 58 percent of the time that season but finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Normally when they have strayed this far away from their traditional running game they have drawn the ire of fans. That hasn’t been the case this season.
“I think people are talking enough in talk radio and the media and the fans and they’re excited about the young receivers and the big-play potential,” said Roethlisberger. “They obviously still want us to be physical and still do those things but, I don’t know. You haven’t heard it nearly as much this year. It’s kind of refreshing, offensively.”
The Bengals game plan won’t change much from the first game. Getting to and bringing down Roethlisberger is a high priority.
“We got him five times but now we need to get him seven times,” said defensive end Frostee Rucker. “You know you have to play consistent against a team like this because they make their plays but you’ve got to put the fire out.”