A dynamic duo of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant get a lot of the attention for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but when Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard was asked Friday about the biggest challenge Sunday's opponent brings, he focused on the player getting them the ball - quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"It's their vertical passing threat," Richard said. "It's the attack. It's number 7 [Roethlisberger] standing back there, big strong guy in the pocket, got all kinds of guys around him trying to grab him, trying to get him down and he's a massive, strong human being standing back there. He can throw the ball really far, they've got speedy receivers and those guys can go get it."
The Seahawks have been a bit revolutionary in their thinking since Pete Carroll took over as head coach, valuing disruption of the quarterback very nearly as much as actual sacks. While Carroll, Richard and Co. certainly would bring opposing quarterbacks to the ground, Seattle's strategy has been to force them to re-set their feet.
The 6-5, 241 pound Roethlisberger isn't particularly nimble but he's possesses incredible strength and balance, helping him remain standing even with defenders draped on him. That ability allows him to keep his eyes downfield and find his targets even with the pocket collapsing around him.
This strength and vision has been especially critical to Bryant's success. While overshadowed by Brown, who is currently second in the NFL to Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones in both receptions (89 to 79) and receiving yardage (1,189 to 1,141), Bryant has emerged as Pittsburgh's primary vertical threat - an area Seattle struggled with against the similarly schemed Arizona Cardinals.
When asked about Bryant, Richard again swung back towards Roethlisberger.
"[Bryant] is running by guys. 27 catches, averaging 20 yards per catch, and again, really it comes down to the quarterback," Richard said. "Whether he's covered, or running past guys or jump ball or anything like that, it's if the guy can throw the football. Roethlisberger's going put the ball, he doesn't care if the guy is covered or not, he's going to put the ball where he wants to out the ball. He expects his receivers to go up and challenge the football."
Typically, the Seahawks can generate big plays on defense by forcing opposing quarterbacks to move from their spot. Against the Steelers and Roethlisberger, Seattle must actually take the quarterback to the ground.
Other than a season-high six sack performance of the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers nearly a month ago, the Seahawks have generally struggled to take down opposing quarterbacks, currently tied for 13th in the NFL (with the 3-7 Baltimore Ravens) with 25 sacks through 10 games.