What the doctor ordered

<b>JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - </b> That was exactly what we needed to see from Ben Roethlisberger. <br><br> The rookie quarterback had struggled in his past three games, throwing just one touchdown pass and never topping 138 yards passing in any of those games.

The Steelers were continuing to win, despite the rookie's struggles.

Sunday night in Jacksonville, the Steelers won 17-16 not despite Roethlisberger, but because of him.

Roethlisberger completed 14 of 17 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for another 40 yards, accounting for 75 percent of the Steelers' offensive output. And more importantly, Roethlisberger got the Steelers into field goal range in the game's closing moments when they needed him to.

He had played well earlier in the season, but Sunday night was his coming out party.

"This was a big game for Ben because he brought us back against a good defense, on the road, in the last two minutes with no timeouts," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "He hadn't done that yet. We knew he could do it because we practice it all the time. But now everybody knows he can do it."
  • The Jaguars did something you can expect more teams to do against the Steelers the rest of the way this season - they max protected, sending only two or three receivers out for passes while keeping everybody else in to block the Steelers' blitzes.

    To a large extent, it worked, as Jags' QB Byron Leftwich was sacked only twice and threw for 268 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions.

    The problem with max protecting, however, is that when you get down inside the 20, it's a lot easier to cover those two or three receivers who are in pass patterns because you don't have to worry about somebody running past you.

    Jacksonville scored just one touchdown in five trips inside the red zone and it only scored that one because Chris Hope failed to get a very motivated Troy Edwards on the ground after a catch at the 10. Edwards broke Hope's tackle and beat Ike Taylor to the pylon for Jacksonville's only TD in the game.

    Even though they were max protecting, the Jaguars didn't keep Leftwich completely clean. The Steelers hit him hard a number of times just after he threw the ball.

    But they are going to have to adjust their blitz scheme a little if future opponents continue max protecting. We saw once again that the Steelers' cover guys aren't good enough to hold up on the island if a quality QB has time to throw.

    But, as Kimo von Oelhoffen put it, "Our DBs gave up some long plays, but they weren't scoring plays. We lived to fight again because those guys got people on the ground even when they gave up a long play. The offense is going to have a bad play one out of every four plays."

    In other words, this faster secondary is better than the ones of previous seasons because they are able to run guys down from behind and keep them from scoring touchdowns. That allows the defense to line up again and try to keep the offense out of the end zone.

  • Chris Hoke is earning himself a lot of money. The Steelers' backup nose tackle - who will be a free agent at the end of the season - lined up against Brad Meester, a quality NFL center, and forced the Jaguars to double team him. Hoke was extremely active Sunday night and was a big factor in Fred Taylor managing just 76 yards on 27 carries.

    It seemed like every time Taylor made a decent run, it was because Kendrick Clancy was in the game giving Hoke a breather.

    That's the only drawback with Hoke at this point. Because other teams didn't try to run the ball as much as the 34 times the Jags did, Hoke hadn't played as many snaps as he had to Sunday night. He cramped up late in the game.

  • Yep, the Steelers really missed Plaxico Burress Sunday night.

    OK. Certainly they could have used Burress, but he wasn't a necessity. Hines Ward had four catches for 80 yards. Antwaan Randle El have five for 71. Heck, even Lee Mays had three catches for 32 yards, despite a crucial third-down drop.

    Great quarterback play can make receivers better. Who were Brett Favre's receivers over the years? Doesn't matter, because Favre usually made them better than they were.

    That's right, Roethlisberger has a chance to be everything Favre has been over the years - and maybe more. He takes better care of the football than Favre ever has.

  • Duce Staley looked a little rusty Sunday night, but should hit the ground running against the Jets next Sunday after getting just 51 yards on 17 carries against Jacksonville. You might see a little more of Jerome Bettis, however, as well.

  • The Steelers won despite being penalized a ridiculous 11 times in the game. Can't do that too often against a good team and win.

    Of course one of those penalties was on Hope for illegal contact on Jacksonville's go-ahead field goal drive late in the fourth quarter, a play on which Hope still has yet to touch wide receiver Jimmy Smith.

    "I don't know what they saw," said Hope. "That's a tough spot in a game to make that call."

    Luckily for the Steelers, the Jaguars have coaches too and were willing to settle for a field goal instead of going for the kill.

    On third and three at the Pittsburgh 18 with just over two minutes left, why not go for the first down instead of just running Taylor into the middle of the Steelers' defense for the 27th time in the game?

    Had the Jags converted a first down there, the game was over. But Jack Del Rio, a defensive-minded coach like Bill Cowher, trusted his defense to stop the Steelers. He won't make that mistake again.

    OK, maybe he will.

  • Now, I gotta go take a nap. Getting home a 4 a.m. is brutal, especially when you can't sleep on a plane.

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