Sacks don't scare Steelers

| Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ben Roethlisberger said he has a better grasp of the offense Bruce Arians installed last year and is more cognizant of where his outlet receivers are when he comes under a heavy rush. Better awareness, Roethlisberger said, should cut down the number of times he is sacked this season.

That is not to say the Steelers will need less laundry detergent for Roethlisberger's uniform or that the Pro Bowler is trading in his swashbuckling style for a more conservative approach.

"I'm still going to get (sacked), because I'm still going to try to scramble and make plays," said Roethlisberger, who became the highest-paid player in Steelers history in March. "You look at all the big plays we've made, and then you take the sacks. You kind of have to live with it."

If Roethlisberger is willing to live with it, so too are the Steelers. After all, he is the one who absorbs the physical punishment, and the trade-off for the 47 sacks he took last season appeared to be well worth it.

Roethlisberger had arguably the greatest regular season by a Steelers quarterback in 2007, as he set a franchise record with 32 touchdown passes and turned in the best passer rating (104.1) this side of Tom Brady.

His ability to improvise and create a big play when it looks like everything has broken down around him has set Roethlisberger apart as the 26-year-old heads into his fifth NFL season.

The dramatic increase in sacks he has taken the past two years compared to his first two seasons in the NFL shows in some way how much his role and influence in the offense has grown.

"He's one of the quarterbacks who has the unique ability to not only keep plays alive but make plays when it seems they're dead," Steelers tight end Heath Miller said. "That's what makes him fun to play with."

Roethlisberger's derring-do is why coaches have drilled into his teammates to never give up on a play when he has the ball - to "stay alive," as backup tight end Matt Spaeth put it.

Primary target
Of the QBs who made this year's Pro Bowl, nobody took more sacks than Ben Roethlisberger in 2007-08.
QB Sacks Games
Derek Anderson 14 16
Brett Favre 15 16
Jeff Garcia 19 13
Tom Brady 21 16
Peyton Manning 21 16
Tony Romo 24 16
Matt Hasselback 33 16
Ben Roethlisberger 47 15

The downside to the 6-foot-5, 241-pounder's aversion to throwing the ball away is that Roethlisberger makes himself more vulnerable to the kind of hit that could knock him out of a game or sideline him for even longer.

The risk of reining in Roethlisberger is that he might not be the same dynamic playmaker he has been.

But there may be a happy medium for Roethlisberger, and it's all about having a deeper understanding of the offense Arians installed after becoming the Steelers' offensive coordinator in January 2007.

"Knowing where the (running) backs are, knowing where the check-down guys are," Roethlisberger said. "I'm going to be able to get the ball out of my hand sometimes (instead of getting sacked) and get it to our playmakers."

Not that he plans to stop being one himself.

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