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Harris: Roethlisberger takes play to higher level

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has always praised quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's improvisational skills and play-making ability. But rarely has Tomlin lauded Roethlisberger's pregame preparation or his knack for deciphering defenses in their two seasons together.

Times are changing. Tomlin couldn't say enough good things about Roethlisberger following his flawless performance against San Diego in the AFC divisional playoffs.

Tomlin saluted Roethlisberger -- who completed 17 of 26 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown and a 98.4 passer rating in the Steelers' 35-24 win -- in special terms reserved for Peyton Manning, whose quarterback excellence extends beyond the playing field and into the film room.

Tomlin's response to Roethlisberger's best playoff performance since going 21 of 29 for 275 yards and two touchdowns against Denver in the 2005 AFC Championship Game spoke of a growing bond between the coach and the most visible player on the team.

"Ben has been at his best not necessarily what you see in the stadium," Tomlin said. "I like the way he's been preparing. I thought he had a great week of practice last week."

Roethlisberger's decision to throw himself into preparations for San Diego has Tomlin expecting a similar effort against Baltimore, Sunday's opponent in the AFC title game at Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger picked apart San Diego's defense as though he had prior knowledge of the Chargers' playbook. He went through his progressions and consistently made the correct read.

"He was extremely sharp on his deep balls, play-action and communication," Tomlin said. "I believe the guys feed off that. I expect it to continue this week."

Taking his cue from Tomlin, Roethlisberger broke down his performance against San Diego in clinical terms.

"The line did a good job of protecting," he said. "That gave me time. Backs stayed in to chip, the receivers did a good job of getting open. We did a good job, (center) Justin (Hartwig) and I communicating and the rest of the line being able to slide and picking some stuff up."

Roethlisberger explained his thought process on a clutch 18-yard, third-down pass to tight end Heath Miller in the third quarter.

"He is a last read on that play," Roethlisberger said. "He was just blocking, and then he leaked out. I'm glad he let the guy go, because I had nowhere else to go with it."

Roethlisberger said the Steelers tested San Diego's secondary with long passes, because that's what the defense dictated.

"We saw some single coverages," he said. "We saw some things on tape that we tried to take advantage of."

Against Baltimore, Roethlisberger said Wednesday, you never know what to expect.

"We're watching tape, and we're putting new things in for practice we've never seen before," he said.

Roethlisberger sounded like he couldn't wait for practice to start.

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