Ravens looking to corral Roethlisberger

OWINGS MILLS – The enduring images of Pittsburgh Steelers rugged quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are almost always defined by his escape artistry. Either Roethlisberger completes a pass by shrugging defenders draped all over his back, arms and legs, or he displays unique elusiveness for his size to break out of the pocket to uncork a long spiral on the run.

For the Baltimore Ravens, his presence in Sunday's AFC North showdown looms large. Beating the Steelers one week after Roethlisberger engineered a dramatic 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers with a franchise-record 503 passing yards along with three touchdown passes will entail more than containing him.

The Ravens need to bring the 6-foot-5, 241-pounder down to the ground as often as possible. "Obviously his size, a big, strong, athletic guy," said Baltimore outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who has recorded six sacks this season. "So, you grab onto him and it's not like grabbing onto Brooks Bollinger or somebody else. Ben's a big dude. I think the other thing is, he understands his mobility.

"When he sees a free runner, he's going to stand there and let you run full speed. He knows that all he's got to do is twist or take one or two steps – especially on that field where you can't redirect. I think it's not only his size and his athletic ability, but it's also that he's a smart guy."

Because the Steelers' offensive line has demonstrated some suspect pass blocking this season and Roethlisberger hangs in the pocket until the last possible second, he has been sacked 43 times this season.

That's the second-most of any NFL quarterback. Stemming directly from Roethlisberger's ability to improvise are plays such as his game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace as time expired against the Packers.

It's not only about his ability. It comes back to his determination.

"Definitely, Ben always got it in his mind that he's always going to have to break a tackle to make a play, as you saw last week, and he's capable of doing it," Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "He's probably the only quarterback capable of doing that. Fundamental tackling will be key this week in practice."

Against Green Bay, Roethlisberger joined Hall of Fame quarterbacks Y.A. Tittle and Warren Moon as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.

He broke the Steelers' single-season record for completions with 302, surpassing Tommy Maddox's mark.

And Roethlisberger did it in his usual dramatic fashion with his late-game heroics.

"You know, that's his game," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "Some people run from big moments, some people crave them. He's one of those kind of guys that craves them, and I'd imagine he's done it at every level he's participated in going back to little league."

Roethlisberger is far from a sculpted athlete who lives in the weight room.

However, his athleticism is deceptive. And his mobility, endurance and size are huge factors in any football game.

"It's a combination of his size, strength, athleticism, balance, the fact that he's so accurate on the run, so accurate when defenders are draped on him," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's probably the best playmaker out of the pocket as a thrower in the league. They've built the offense around that."

Asked if his ability to pull out a win was akin to a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat, Roethlisberger laughed and replied: "As long as the rabbit's alive, that's what matters."

Although the defending Super Bowl champions are 7-7 overall, Roethlisberger has enjoyed a prolific season.

He has completed 67.7 percent of his throws for 3,849 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 100.6 passer rating.

The win over the Packers was particularly satisfying with the Steelers' season on the line. "Coach has said, ‘I can tell when you have a hot hand,' and I had that feeling," Roethlisberger said. "The offense was doing well. We were moving the ball and scoring and doing good things."

Roethlisberger's sterling numbers don't include participation in the Ravens' 20-17 overtime win over the Steelers on Nov. 29 when he was sidelined with a concussion and Baltimore eked out a win over Dennis Dixon.

The Ravens' defensive game plan will have one top priority, harassing Roethlisberger and preventing him from exploiting their secondary the way he exposed the Packers.

That will mean keeping him bottled up, collapsing the pocket and tackling him with fundamental technique.

"With most guys, we always say, ‘Move them off their spot. Get them out into space,'" Johnson said. "When he's running around and making stuff happen is when he's at his most dangerous. But that's also a bad thing because he can also stand in the pocket and carve you up.

"So, it's dangerous. You want to get after him and you want to move him, but you also always want to have someone in his face because when he gets out there in space and is running around, it seems like that's when he's at his most accurate."


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