Ben Roethlisberger has always been known as something of a gambler on the football field.
But the Steelers' quarterback knows that playing against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game Sunday, he can't afford to make many – if any – mistakes.
The Ravens defense is just too good to give their offense a short field, or, worse yet, a defensive touchdown.
"They are very opportunistic," said Roethlisberger as the Steelers prepare to play the Ravens for a third time this season, this time with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
"If the ball is in there air where some defensive backs might drop it, they don't seem to drop very many. The linebackers as well. In that sense I think their players make plays. They also are so good, (Defensive coordinator Rex) Ryan and the rest of that defensive staff are so good at making you make the mistakes of throwing it where you don't think a guy is, but he is there. You just have to be aware of all of them."
The Steelers went 2-0 against the Ravens this season, winning once in overtime and a second time in Baltimore on a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 43 seconds remaining.
In both games, the Steelers took good care of the football, turning it over just three times.
That might not seem all that impressive until you consider Baltimore led the league with 34 takeaways in the regular season, including 22 in its last eight games. That has continued on into the playoffs, as the Ravens have forced seven turnovers in their two playoff games.
"So often, you see teams throw a deep ball and it's caught by no one," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "Very rarely do you see that versus the Baltimore Ravens because they've got a guy, (safety Ed Reed), who's the deep guy back there. Very few balls hit the ground when you throw deep against those guys. He's got that kind of range. He's got that kind of intuition. He's that kind of playmaker."
Reed led the NFL with nine interceptions and has added two more in the postseason. But he's not alone in forcing turnovers. In last Saturday's AFC Divisional playoff game at Tennessee, the Ravens also forced five fumbles, recovering two of them.
"The fumbles are caused because they're a big, strong, violent team that runs to the football," said Tomlin. "A lot of times when you have those ingredients, on contact, the ball is going to come out. There's really nothing mystical about how they're doing what they're doing. You respect it nonetheless because it's how we all desire to play."
The Steelers players are certainly aware of it and are taking extra care this week in making sure they tuck the ball away.
"They do a great job of trying to rip the ball out of guys, trying to create turnover," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "There's a lot more attention to detail this week as far as trying to strip the ball out. Our look team is going to be trying to rip the ball out of guys' arms as they're running down the field.
"It's on your mind. You've got to go out and continue to make sure you protect the ball well because you don't want to go out there and give them an easy touchdown by them stripping the ball away from somebody."
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.