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Timing is everything with Big Ben's sacks

| Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

Maybe the offensive line isn't that bad after all.

For the past four years (including this season), the Steelers offensive line has come under heavy scrutiny for allowing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked time and time again.

The line gave up 49 sacks in 2006; 47 in 2007; 49 in 2009; and is on the pace to allow the franchise quarterback to hit the ground another 46 times this year.

Including the playoffs, Roethlisberger has been sacked 233 times since he came into the league in 2004. That's nearly three times a game over his 5 1/2-year career.

In that perspective, it is astonishing that Roethlisberger has missed only seven games in his career, including sitting out only one of the past 59 games. And that one wasn't due to injury; he sat out a meaningless Week 17 game in Baltimore in 2007.

At least for this season, Roethlisberger has nobody to blame about the sacks but himself.

As a rule, if a quarterback holds onto the ball for three seconds or less, he isn't likely to get sacked. Anything more than three seconds, and there is a good chance a quarterback will be taken to the ground.

Knowing that, very few of the 20 sacks against Roethlisberger have been the offensive line's fault.

Roethlisberger acknowledges that freely almost on a weekly basis.

"I tell them that those sacks are on me and don't worry about it," Roethlisberger said.

Based on when the ball is snapped until he is wrapped up but not necessarily on the ground, only four of Roethlisberger's 20 sacks this season have come in three seconds or less. Those sacks occurred in an average of 2.2 seconds.

The other 17 sacks have been Roethlisberger's fault almost exclusively as he had gotten 4.5 seconds to throw before being taken down.

Overall, Roethlisberger has had an average of 4.2 seconds to throw the ball before settling for a sack this season.

"Live by the sword, die by the sword," Roethlisberger always says.

That is the truth.

Roethlisberger's ability to buy himself time and make plays downfield attributes to most of the sacks. But when he doesn't make a play, it is likely a sack.

Roethlisberger held onto the ball for an astonishing 9.1 seconds in the first series of the year against Tennessee before getting sacked by Jason Jones. He tried to escape a couple of San Diego Chargers in Week 4 before getting sacked by Larry English 6.5 seconds after the snap.

Against Cleveland, Roethlisberger scrambled out of pressure and, instead of throwing the ball away, tried to make a play and was sacked by Jason Trusnick 6.1 seconds after the snap.

Holding the ball so long also may be a good thing. Roethlisberger had the ball for more than six seconds on a play against Cleveland and it resulted in a touchdown pass to Heath Miller.

The offensive line isn't totally blameless. They have allowed their share of jailbreaks that put Roethlisberger instantly in jeopardy.

Tennessee's Jevon Kearse was unblocked and hit Roethlisberger in 1.8 seconds; Chicago's Alex Brown came on a stunt and got to the quarterback in 1.9 seconds; Minnesota's Kevin Williams was credited with a sack on a broken play in which Roethlisberger faked a pass to the right then took off forward; and the Vikings' Ben Leber came untouched on a delayed blitz within 2.9 seconds of the ball being snapped.



Saints: Most complete team in the NFL should be 10-0 when it hosts the Patriots on Nov. 30.

Colts: Beat the 49ers last Sunday despite not getting a TD pass from Peyton Manning.

Vikings: Love him or loathe him, Brett Favre has been the MVP through the first half of the season.

Eagles: Might be the one team that can come close to matching the Saints' wealth at the skill positions.

Broncos: The Steelers will see how the Broncos respond to their first loss of the season Monday night in Denver.


Raiders: It's hard to imagine embattled coach Tom Cable making it through the season.

Rams: When the coach gets a Gatorade shower for beating the Lions, it is time to administer last rites to that tired ritual.

Browns: The general manager, but not the coach, takes the fall for the sorry state of the Browns•

Lions: Larry Foote had to envision a different kind of homecoming when he signed with Detroit.

Buccaneers: The only winless team in the NFL is going with rookie Josh Freeman at QB.

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