In this game of schoolyard ball, stopping Roethlisberger is key

Ravens have struggled to handle Steelers QB, especially when he improvises

December 04, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

To take control of the AFC North and a top seed in the AFC playoffs, the Ravens have to rip it away from a quarterback who has taken so much from them over the years.

Ben Roethlisberger brings a five-game winning streak over the Ravens and some painful memories to M&T Bank Stadium Sunday, when the rivalry between the Ravens (8-3) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) is renewed.

Over the past few years, Roethlisberger has taken away a trip to the Super Bowl and a division title from the Ravens and handed them heartbreaking defeats with out-of-the-pocket heroics. A chance for some vindication awaits the Ravens before a national television audience Sunday night, when first place in the AFC North is on the line.

The time is now for the Ravens to upend Big Ben, who hasn't lost to his bitter rival since 2006.

"Well, there's no game better than this one to break that streak," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

"Break" has been a hot topic when it comes to Roethlisberger this week. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger has a broken bone in his right foot, which he re-injured last Sunday in an overtime win at Buffalo. But the Steelers later refuted this report with a statement that said Roethlisberger doesn't have a broken right foot but instead is healing from an aggravation of a previous injury where scar tissue is present.

Roethlisberger has been limited in practice all week and will wear a reinforced shoe that stabilizes the foot yet allows enough movement to play. He is listed as questionable on the injury report, but the Ravens aren't questioning whether the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback will play.

"We know he's going to play because this is championship football," said Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger more times (eight, to be exact) than anyone else in the league.

Roethlisberger took his biggest shot from the Ravens in 2006, when an unblocked Bart Scott rocked him in one of the hardest hits in this rivalry. But Roethlisberger countered with harder punches to the gut, beating the Ravens in December the past two years and knocking them out of the playoffs in the AFC championship game two seasons ago.

Why does Roethlisberger have such a hold over the Ravens? He simply shrugs his shoulders when asked the question.

"I have no idea," he said. "Luck?"

Roethlisberger's statistics against the Ravens have been impressive over his five consecutive wins. He has averaged 232 yards passing, throwing nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His rating is 96.8.

But those numbers don't reveal how many times Roethlisberger has dealt the decisive blow to the Ravens.

Here's a look at his impact during his personal five-game winning streak over the Ravens:

•Nov. 5, 2007: Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes against the Ravens, who could have tied the Steelers atop the AFC North with a win.

•Sept. 29, 2008: His 38-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes on third down rallied Pittsburgh from a 10-point halftime deficit.

•Dec. 14, 2008: Roethlisberger's controversial 4-yard touchdown pass to Holmes with 43 seconds remaining clinched the AFC North title for the Steelers on the Ravens' home turf.

•Jan. 18, 2009: A scrambling Roethlisberger made an off-balance throw to Holmes, who ran for a 65-yard touchdown in the AFC championship game.

•Dec. 27, 2009: He delivered two key completions (14 and 24 yards) to set up the game-winning field goal with 5:25 left in a game that would have knocked Pittsburgh out of the playoff hunt.

"Ben is the ultimate competitor," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's why they made him their franchise quarterback. I just think they are who they are with Ben Roethlisberger."

Schoolyard football

The Steelers were without Roethlisberger for four games to start the season while he served his suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. In seven games since, he hasn't been any different.

He is still one of the league's top quarterbacks (he's the fifth-highest rated passer in the NFL). He is still at his best when the play breaks down.

"Ben isn't going to impress you from the pocket like the Mannings and the Bradys," Lewis said. "It's basic schoolyard football where someone takes the ball and yells, 'Tackle me, tackle me.' "

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said his players understand you potentially face two plays with every snap against Roethlisberger.

The first challenge is playing him while he's in the pocket. The next one is when he escapes pressure by sidestepping a tackler or brushing them off to extend the play.

"I think he changes the dynamic of the game, no doubt about it," Harbaugh said. "[Roethlisberger] is deadly accurate on the move."

When Roethlisberger gets out of the pocket, the Ravens will change their zone coverage immediately to man-to-man. A defense has to lock on every receiver or else one will scramble to find an open area for Roethlisberger.

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