Patience paramount for Steelers QB Roethlisberger against Bengals

| Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, 8:30 p.m.

Ben Roethlisberger is used to heaving the ball down the field on a whim.

He's quite comfortable throwing the ball into tight coverage to Antonio Brown, and how can you blame him, especially with the plays Brown has made over the past couple of years.

Simply put, Roethlisberger is a gunslinger and is proud to call himself just that. But for one week, he's going to need to put the gun away if the Steelers hope to win a playoff game for the first time in five years when play the Bengals on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in an AFC wild-card game.

With the Bengals being downright stingy allowing anything behind their secondary, Roethlisberger and his high-flying offense are going to have take a step back from the down-the-field stuff and not force anything, which may be easier said than done.

“Sometimes you just have to say the play is over and throw it away,” quarterback coach Randy Fichtner said. “It is real hard, because he never gives up. But you do have to show patience and understanding. They aren't going to be negligent and let (Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton) run down the field and have free access, and we are going to throw the ball up over their heads.”

The Bengals have run an umbrella-like defense with their secondary this year, especially in the two meetings against the Steelers.

That means you better take the underneath stuff.

“We have to be patient and take what the defense gives us and not try to force anything,” tight end Heath Miller said. “There will be chances for us to make plays, but we have to be patient and let them come to us.”

The Bengals are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete only 27 percent of passes thrown over 20 yards and 10 of their 12 interceptions came on passes down the field, according to Pro Football Focus.

In two games against the Bengals this season, Roethlisberger is 1 of 11 for 31 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on throws 20 yards or more down the field. The Ravens and Browns played a similar type of defense the past two weeks, and Roethlisberger threw four interceptions.

“Some of the decisions — and he knows — sometimes you just have to know when to give up,” Fichtner said. “There are times to give up. You can't make certain throws.”

Especially, when they result in interceptions, which Roethlisberger has struggled with this year.

In his 12-year career, Roethlisberger is 8-26 when he throws multiple interceptions in a game. He is 106-31 when he throws one interception or fewer.

Roethlisberger had one of his worst interception seasons since entering the NFL. In 12 starts, he threw 16 interceptions. He had only two interception-free games, blowout wins against the Colts and 49ers.

“I don't worry about them,” Roethlisberger said. “I just throw the ball and try to score points.”

Fichtner isn't concerned either.

“No, because he's a gunslinger,” Fichtner said. “You have to let him play.”

Bengals safety Reggie Nelson has been a thorn in Roethlisberger's side. Nelson has intercepted Roethlisberger six times in the last seven games he has faced him, including four times in the last three. That is another reason the Steelers can't be tempted with down-the-field throws.

“We have to play smart and get the ball out quick and catch and run,” Brown said. “We need to take our shots when they present themselves.”

A big part of Roethlisberger's game is splash plays. He is third in the league, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, and has 38 completions of 25 yards or longer this year.

The traditional method of producing big plays likely will be taken away, but that doesn't mean they have to be eliminated. The Steelers are going to have to rely on something other than throwing deep.

“Sometimes that is in direct conflict with Ben in terms of patience, and it doesn't have to,” Fichtner said. “Chunk plays come in many different forms.”

Those other forms are check downs, intermediate passes and concept plays like throw short, run long, which the Steelers have one of the best in the game in Brown.

“We are an offense that thrives on those chunk-type plays — 15 to 20-yard plays. I am not talking about 80-yard plays,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “If they give us any shots over the top, we have to take advantage of it.”

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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