Will Belichick devour another rookie QB?

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> It has to be a scary proposition, and the numbers back it up: Rookie quarterbacks have an extremely difficult time against Bill Belichick's defense.

The coach of the New England Patriots has become the recognized genius of modern defensive football. His two championships in the last three years -- with perhaps only two Hall of Famers at most in his lineup -- are proof. So is the record 21-game winning streak.

And rookie quarterbacks? Belichick devours them. Since taking over in 2000, the Patriots have limited rookie passers to a rating of 40.6, which includes a 1-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

That's what Ben Roethlisberger will be going up against as he attempts to win his fifth consecutive start with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It has to be a daunting proposition, even for a rookie who ranks fourth in the NFL with a passer rating of 100.1.

"We know how good his defenses are. We know how good their whole team is," said Roethlisberger. "It's definitely going to be a challenge for us, but not just for the offense, the whole team. We know we have to play our best football. That's the game plan right now, that we come out and play our best football."

Understandably, Roethlisberger leans on clichés when asked about upcoming opponents. It's what intelligent rookies do. So his back-up, second-year man Brian St. Pierre, shed light on the topic when asked if facing Belichick's defense can overwhelm young quarterbacks.

"I hadn't watched film on them until this week," said St. Pierre, "and I went in thinking they were going to be disguising, showing this, that and the other thing, but they really haven't done that so far. They do some on third downs, but no one does more than our defense does, and we see it in practice all spring, all summer and all training camp.

"Now, they'll show you things like two linemen down with everyone else standing up walking around, but they're not doing things other teams haven't done to us. They're going to play cover-2 a little bit and they're going to play some man-to-man. They're just going to try to make you beat them. That's the best thing that they do. They don't beat themselves and they make you beat them."

Byron Leftwich couldn't in 2003, and he's the only rookie to have thrown for a touchdown against Belichick's Patriots.

Joey Harrington couldn't beat them either, but then again the Detroit Lions could barely beat anyone in 2002.

Michael Vick was sacked three times in 2001, the same year Chris Weinke was sacked twice and threw three interceptions to the Patriots.

The four rookie quarterbacks lost to the Patriots by an average score of 27-10, and that doesn't count the 30-14 pasting they put on the Steelers in 2002 when rookie wide receiver Antwaan Randle El completed his only pass against the Patriots for seven yards.

Big Ben, however, could be an entirely different story. Only two other quarterbacks in the modern era - Mike Kruczek and Phil Simms -- have started their careers so successfully. "That guy is a different breed," Patriots cornerback Ty Law said.

A different breed?

"Maybe I should say rare, not a different breed," Law said. "There have been a lot of great young quarterbacks that have come into the league. He kind of reminds me of a young Drew Bledsoe but with a little bit more escape-ability.

"He is big and strong. He just took the team on his shoulders and he's running with it. I can't ever see him sitting back down unless he is injured. It's his team right now, and everyone rallies behind him. And for a young guy to come in and take control of a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is a pretty good football team, it still says something."

And if he can beat a team coached by Bill Belichick, it will say even more.

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