The Steelers and Jaguars match up against each other for the second time in less than a month, and this time, a trip to New England and a sour taste for the offseason is on the line. The weather won't be as cold, but the play on the field should be even more intense than the last time these two teams got together. The one player on the Steelers that is certain to have the biggest impact come Sunday will be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, especially being that Steelers star running back Willie Parker is out.
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. Last time around, Ben was healthy and played well. He will have to have a career game on Saturday night if the Steelers are going to advance another week.
In his fourth season as the Steelers starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger had 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 32 touchdown passes ranked him third in the NFL, and set a new 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 104.1, which was the second-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 Saturday's rematch ready to prove himself against the Jaguars solid defense, and he may have an edge. Pittsburgh will likely spread out the field and allow Roethlisberger to win or lose the game on his own. Ben and company will not have to contend with the heavy winds that they dealt with less than a month ago. That will make things much easier for Ben to spread the ball 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 now 15th ranked and surging 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 great match up between two teams that will be looking to make a deep playoff run, and a much improved Ben Roethlisberger.
Looming Large: Ben Roethlisberger
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