Looming Large: Ben Roethlisberger

Whenever the Steelers and Jaguars match up against each other, it is always a knock-down, drag-out type of physical backyard brawl. With both teams sitting with a 9-4 record, this Sunday's game will be cold and intense, as playoff berths and seedings are on the line. The one player on the Steelers that will likely have the biggest impact come Sunday will be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

If you rewind to last years Steelers-Jaguars game, you'll remember that Ben Roethlisberger was playing against Jacksonville's stingy defense despite overcoming appendicitis, as well as a major offseason motorcycle accident. This week, Big Ben sat out of two practices with a sore shoulder that he suffered against the New England Patriots last week. Déjà vu you might call it. Despite his recent injury, the Steelers signal caller is expected to play Sunday, and if you take a look at his stats from this year, there should be no underestimating this Pro Bowl level quarterback.

In his fourth season as the Steelers starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger is having the best year of his career, hands down. Ben is no longer a "game manager," and has improved his statistics across the board from a year ago. His stellar play in 2007 has made his disappointing 2006 campaign look like an anomaly. Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward talked about the differences in his quarterback this year, compared to a year ago--

"Ben's a totally different quarterback from last year to now. He's more confident. He has a better understanding of our offense."

Roethlisberger's 26 touchdown passes ranks him fourth in the NFL, 17 of which have come in his last eight games. Ben is just three touchdowns away from setting the Steelers single-season record, a mark held by hall-of-famer and four-time Super Bowl champion, Terry Bradshaw. As evidenced by his quarterback passer rating of 101.4, which is fourth-best in the NFL, Roethlisberger has drastically improved his decision making, as his interception totals have dropped from his 23 in 2006, to just 11 this year.

"I think he's better. Each year you're supposed to be better and he is better," DE Paul Spicer said. "He's looking down the field more. That's more their passing attack this year than in years past. Last year everything that happened to him [affected him], but I think he has a better grip on what they're asking for him. We've got our work cut out."

Roethlisberger will come into Sunday's rematch ready to prove himself against the Jaguars solid defense, and he may have an edge. Last year, Jacksonville's defense was strong and healthy, as they stifled the Steelers offense and only allowed the team from western Pennsylvania to cross midfield once in their 9-0 victory. The Jaguars enter this game with quite a few more questions stemming from the health of their once powerful defense. With defensive tackle Marcus Stroud on injured reserve, defensive end Reggie Hayward and linebacker Mike Peterson both out, and safety Reggie Nelson listed as a game-time decision, things appear to be a little easier for Ben this time around. Will Rothlisberger and the Steelers offensive line be able to handle Stroud's replacement Grady Jackson and pro-bowler John Henderson who have combined weight of 680+ lbs? Will Ben be able to shred the Jaguars 27th ranked pass defense? He's mobile and accurate, but nothing will come easy for Pittsburgh when the play the Jaguars. It never is. Either way, we can expect to see a good match up between two likely playoff bound teams, and a much improved Ben Roethlisberger.

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