Kevin Gorman: Steelers, Big Ben ready for the roof
Ben Roethlisberger might be one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in playing backyard football, as he often has described his style.
But Big Ben loves playing indoors, whether it's under a dome or stadium with a retractable roof.
“It's awesome,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “Those guys that have domes and get to play in them eight games out of the year, I'm a little jealous at times. It's definitely very easy to throw the ball around.”
So after beating the Detroit Lions, 20-15, inside Ford Field, Roethlisberger is stoked that the Steelers will play their second consecutive game in what he calls “perfect weather,” a 70-degree setting that's neither wet nor windy.
The Steelers (6-2) start the second half of their schedule the same way they ended the first half: Indoors, against the Indianapolis Colts (3-6) on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
As much as he revels in playing under a roof, Roethlisberger has played only 16 of his 193 NFL regular-season games indoors. While he has a higher completion percentage (66.4) and better touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.18) indoors than outdoors (63.6 and 1.82, respectively), the Steelers have a better winning percentage (.678) outdoors than indoors (.625).
“That doesn't matter. To a quarterback, it can,” Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “I've seen Ben throw the ball in snow and wind, and he throws it the same: Great.”
“The quarterback is thinking about the weather: 70 degrees, no wind,” Heyward-Bey said. “Receivers think different: You've got lights. You've got places like Dallas and Indy, where the sun comes in through weird spots and creates shadows.
“I played there for a year, in Indy. I hated it. Indy is a big space. You can be looking up and, poof, a light comes through. It can happen. They have a window where light comes in, so if you're going one way the light can be in your eye; the other way, it might not be.”
Either way, noise could be a factor Roethlisberger counts in his cons. A loud crowd — which certainly was the case in Detroit — will force the Steelers to use a silent count. They typically do so on the road anyway, regardless of whether it's indoors or outdoors.
That's where Maurkice Pouncey makes a difference. The Steelers' Pro Bowl center indicates the snap count with a head bob, one that has to be consistent for his linemates. It's why the Steelers pipe in crowd noise during practices leading up to games at Detroit before the bye and, now, Indianapolis.
“We are making sure everybody is going to be on the same page,” Pouncey said, “knowing that it's going to be loud in there.”
Where backup B.J. Finney's head bob caused issues for the Steelers at Baltimore last season, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said Pouncey's is so easily identifiable he can check it with his peripheral vision, never having to take his eyes off the defensive line.
“We don't even make a big deal out of it,” Villanueva said. “I know the coaches do, but, as players, we make no note of it. It's fun for me because I know it's not going to be cold, it's not going to be hot. It's just going to be an indoor stadium. You eliminate a lot of those variables, and you just play football.”
And it helps that the Steelers played well at Indianapolis last season, when Roethlisberger completed 14 of 20 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns for a 146.0 rating in a 28-7 victory.
“Usually, the best thing to take the crowd of it,” Roethlisberger said, “is playing well, for us.”
The Steelers know it's important to play well indoors, given they still have a game at Houston's NRG Stadium on Christmas Day, not to mention their sights set on playing in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
So, Indy could be a preview.
“I'm not a fan of it,” Heyward-Bey said. “But it doesn't matter at the end of the day. We can play in a parking lot. We're playing.”
Like a game in the backyard, only under a roof.