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Steelers notebook: Ben Roethlisberger credits offensive line for his improved play

Joe Rutter
| Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the first quarter against the Bengals Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the first quarter against the Bengals Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, at Heinz Field.

At this time last year, Ben Roethlisberger was hobbling around with a surgically repaired left knee.

In mid-October, Roethlisberger had surgery on a torn meniscus that kept him from playing against the New England Patriots. He returned less than three weeks after surgery and was ineffective against Baltimore, a loss that ran the Steelers' losing streak to three games and eventually would reach four.

This year, Roethlisberger has helped the Steelers win back-to-back games to vault into first place of the AFC North and the top seed in the conference heading into their game Sunday night at Detroit.

Roethlisberger is coming off his best game: 224 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 117.4 rating in a 29-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I feel great. I feel healthy,” Roethlisberger said. “I think that's a credit to the O-line. They're really doing a great job of protecting me.”

Roethlisberger was sacked a career-low 17 times last year, including just three times in the second half of the season. This year, he has been sacked 10 times as the Steelers approach the midpoint of their schedule. He wasn't sacked by the Bengals.

“I know last game was our first no-sack game, but every game it's just been one here and there. That's it,” he said. “So I'm really happy and proud of the way they have played. They are the reason I stay healthy and upright, so I can never say enough good about them.”

Nixing the run

The removal of fullback Roosevelt Nix in short-yardage and goal-line situations is mystifying, especially given the recent struggles inside the 20. Roethlisberger would like to see Nix in the game in such situations and maybe even get a handoff or two.

In three seasons with the Steelers, Nix's next carry will be his first. He has four career receptions.

“I think we should give the ball to Rosie on the goal line,” Roethlisberger said. “Give it to him, let him score touchdowns.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said that almost happened in a recent game.

“We actually had a play a couple weeks ago that was going to be handed off to Rosie, and Ben threw it, so we might have to have that conversation,” Haley said. “It was an option, but Rosie's doing real good things for us and has been.”

Keeping it clean

The Steelers are coming off a game in which they committed one penalty for 5 yards. Moreover, it came against a heated rival in the Bengals, a team known for giving cheap shots and inciting them in return.

Was it a matter of the Steelers keeping their cool or a mere adjustment from early in the season when they had 23 penalties through two weeks?

Coach Mike Tomlin said it was the latter.

“Penalties were a point of emphasis based on what we did earlier this year,” he said. “We started as a highly penalized group. I talked to our team about things we can control. (The dropoff) was pleasing from that perspective but not based on who we were playing or the history or things of that nature.”

Once the most penalized team in the NFL, the Steelers have dropped to a tie for 12th.

Turn back the clock

When the Steelers and Lions last met in 2013, Roethlisberger and Lions quarterback Matt Stafford combined for more than 700 yards passing. Roethlisberger was 29 of 45 with 367 yards and four touchdown passes in a 37-27 victory at Heinz Field. Stafford was 19 of 46 for 362 yards and two touchdowns.

Given the starts of the two quarterbacks this season, duplicating such numbers Sunday seems unlikely. Stafford is No. 16 in passer rating. Roethlisberger is No. 25.

“Every year is a new team, and I think both of our squads are no different,” Stafford said. “They are playing extremely well on defense right now, doing a great job against the pass and the run, really. They are doing a nice job.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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