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Steelers' Roethlisberger staying upright in Haley's new offense

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 1:36 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley talk on the sideline in Sept. 2012 at Sports Authority Colisuem.  (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley talk on the sideline in Sept. 2012 at Sports Authority Colisuem. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Up-right. adj. Having the main axis or main part perpendicular or vertical.

Perhaps the best quality of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley's system is that's exactly how Ben Roethlisberger is playing most of the time. Upright.

Quarterbacks are judged in many ways. How they run a team, how they throw the deep pass, how they handle pressure on and off the field. But no quarterback can successfully manage a team if he's on his backside, or exactly where Roethlisberger found himself more than any other NFL quarterback over the previous five seasons.

The decision to allow former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to walk away and to hire Haley was made partly because of those 215 sacks from 2007-11. As Roethlisberger turned 30, the Steelers felt the need to keep their franchise player — their main axis — on the field but off the turf as much as possible.

One of Roethlisberger's once-frequent targets suggests it was time for a change.

“Sometimes when you get so close, partiality sets in and you don't know if Bruce Arians is doing what's best for the Steelers or if he's doing what's best for Ben Roethlisberger,” said former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, now an NBC analyst. “I think that set in and they had to part ways because when you go out there and you can't decide what's best for the team and you're doing what's best for the players, that can be a problem.”

The Steelers didn't hire Haley to be Roethlisberger's best friend, but to bring out the best in him.

And while the two aren't as close as Roethlisberger and Arians were, the numbers suggest the change has been good for the quarterback.

Roethlisberger has been sacked 13 times, or exactly half as many times as Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay. A year ago, Roethlisberger had been sacked five more times.

His 1,765 yards passing are the second most he's had at this stage of any season, and he has 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. While under heavy pressure, the toughest conditions for throwing, Roethlisberger was 6 of 9 for 43 yards in Sunday's win at Cincinnati.

“He is playing at a very high level,” Haley said recently. “Some of the little and newer things that he hadn't done in a while, the quick throws and things like that, he's been excellent at. He's also been really good at keeping plays alive when we've needed it. The key with him is to just keep getting better.”

While Roethlisberger referred Friday to Haley's approach as “dink and dunk,” the statistics shown the Steelers aren't exactly employing a West Coast offense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger has thrown 26 passes of 20 yards-plus, exactly as many as Rodgers has and one more than Peyton Manning of Denver. Matt Schaub of Texas and Tony Romo of Dallas have tried just 21 such passes.

Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger had completions of 23, 20, 21, 20, 16, 31 and 30 yards, and he would have had more such yardage if so many passes hadn't been dropped.

Until Jonathan Dwyer ran for 122 yards in Cincinnati, Roethlisberger had operated all season with barely a semblance of a running game to support him.

“We've had some successes and obviously there's some things we need to improve upon that I think we're in the midst of improving upon,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest success has been keeping Roethlisberger upright, or exactly where the Steelers need him to be.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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