Ravens not likely to see the beaten-up Big Ben of last season
Ben Roethlisberger learned this secret last season about playing against the Baltimore Ravens: It's much easier to make plays while standing in the pocket than it is while lying on your backside.
Roethlisberger, less than a year removed from winning the Super Bowl, was sacked a remarkable 14 times in two losses against Baltimore. Nine sacks came during a 27-0 loss in Baltimore in which the Steelers found it difficult merely to make a first down, much less score.
The Steelers don't often throw around the words embarrassed or humiliated, but they did after losing the two division games by a combined score of 58-7.
No need to look any further for the low points of the Steelers' 8-8 season.
"You know how you felt afterward," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "You got embarrassed twice, once here, once there. It's not a good thing. It leaves a taste in your mouth, but we try not to dwell on the past too much."
Especially when Monday's game against the Ravens (4-3) means so much to both teams.
A Pittsburgh victory gives the Steelers (5-2) a two-game lead in the AFC North over the defending division champion as they begin a key stretch in which they leave home only once in five weeks. A loss, however, ties up the division with the Steelers yet to play in Baltimore.
If the Steelers have any advantage, it's that Roethlisberger is performing again at the upper-echelon level of his first two seasons in 2004 and 2005. Then, the Steelers went 26-6, won one Super Bowl and appeared in two AFC championship games.
Roethlisberger has already thrown 15 touchdown passes, only three off his career high, and has only six interceptions. That's far below the pace of his league-leading 23 interceptions of last season.
Just as importantly, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger is again making the kind of plays that shorter, lighter quarterbacks find impossible. During a 24-13 victory Sunday in Cincinnati, Roethlisberger eluded pressure and outmuscled defenders at least three times on improvised third down plays to create first downs.
"When it is time for him to escape, he is capable of doing it," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He is not a run-happy quarterback. He is a quarterback who is elusive and can buy time because of his athleticism when plays break down."
Asked how Roethlisberger played against Cincinnati, Tomlin's answer was all-inclusive: "Awesome."
"You think you've got him, then he gets loose and makes a play," wide receiver Hines Ward said.
Roethlisberger's efficiency also shows up in his quarterback rating of 102.2, which is nearly 30 points higher than his 75.4 of last season. Roethlisberger trails only Tom Brady (136.2), the Jaguars' David Garrard (102.9) and Peyton Manning (102.9).
Two major factors have contributed to Roethlisberger's fast start. Not only is he getting much better protection, he is much healthier than he was a year ago following his offseason motorcycle crash, appendectomy and multiple concussions.
"He's doing some good things back there now and it's exciting," guard Alan Faneca said. "I think he's just in the flow a little bit better this year. I think he's definitely clicking a little more, if that make sense, and he's seeing things better."
Roethlisberger also comes in on Mondays and Tuesdays and works with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on the game plan, something he didn't do with former coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
"I think offensively we're playing well," Roethlisberger said. "I think the key is if we can keep doing that, just trying to get better. We need to keep improving and keep working on trying to be a good football team. I think we have the potential to be great, but we've got a ways to go."
Notes: Despite the Steelers' 2-6 midseason record last season, Roethlisberger normally is a fast starter. The Steelers were 7-1 at midseason in 2004 and 6-2 in 2005. They would be 6-2 by winning Sunday. ... The Steelers held a team meeting following Wednesday's practice. ... The Steelers will wear throwback uniforms in honor of their 75th anniversary all-time team, which will be introduced Monday night. "There will be a lot of distractions, but we need to stay focused and wired in," Roethlisberger said. ... Roethlisberger has been sacked 16 times in seven games. Last season, he was sacked 46 times in 15 games.