Kevin Gorman: Jaguars fresh on mind of Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger
Now that there is closure with No. 26, as the first question was posed to Ben Roethlisberger on Wednesday morning at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, any thoughts as you prepare for Jacksonville?
“That’s the No. 1 focus on my mind, preparing for Jacksonville,” Roethlisberger said. “They’re a great defense. It’s probably going to be the biggest test and challenge for us. So it’s a big one.”
This is what the Le’Veon Bell saga has done to your Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben preferred to talk about the Jacksonville Jaguars defense than discuss the All-Pro running back who spurned the Steelers.
Consider: Roethlisberger would rather talk about turnovers against the Jaguars last year — he had seven in two games — than belabor Bell’s refusal to sign the Steelers’ franchise-tag tender by Tuesday’s deadline.
Not even the trash talk by Jaguars star cornerback Jalen Ramsey in GQ Magazine last summer appeared to bother Roethlisberger, who was asked if it remains bulletin-board material in his mind.
“Nope,” Roethlisberger replied. “No need to.”
Roethlisberger needs no reminder he had one of the worst games of his career in a 30-9 regular-season loss to Jacksonville last year, throwing five interceptions without a touchdown.
That included a pair of pick-sixes on successive drives, turning a two-point lead into an 11-point deficit, and three more in Jacksonville territory, including one at the goal line. Two of the picks came on tipped passes: one by defensive lineman Abry Jones into the hands of linebacker Telvin Smith for a 28-yard touchdown and the other by Ramsey into the hands of safety Barry Church that saw the Penn Hills product go 51 yards for another score.
Roethlisberger had two more costly turnovers against the Jaguars in the 45-42 loss in the AFC divisional playoffs at Heinz Field. Linebacker Myles Jack made a terrific tip to himself for an interception at the Steelers 18, and Leonard Fournette scored on the next play. Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue stripped Roethlisberger to force a fumble that bounced into the hands of Smith for a 50-yard touchdown.
Directly or indirectly, Roethlisberger’s seven turnovers led to the Jaguars scoring six touchdowns last season.
“They made plays,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s why I give them a lot of credit. They’re a really good football team.”
Now, that’s not entirely true. Where the Steelers started 1-2-1 and have won five consecutive, the Jaguars started 3-1 and have lost five straight. They are an absolute mess.
Where Roethlisberger’s first performance against Jacksonville prompted rumblings he should retire, he’s coming off one of his finest performances after throwing five touchdowns without an interception and compiling a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the 52-21 victory over Carolina last Thursday to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
“Ben has always been a great football player, and he’s got good weapons and he’s one of those guys who, if he has time, he’ll just destroy you,” Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone said
Jacksonville ranks third in the NFL in total defense (319.1 yards) and first against the pass (200.6). Despite those rankings, the Jaguars are not as dominant defensively as last year, as evidenced by their minus-11 turnover ratio. They have forced only eight turnovers, with as many interceptions (five) through nine games as they had against the Steelers in one last season. But that could change quickly if Jacksonville can get pressure on Roethlisberger with edge rushers Calais Campbell and Ngakoue, who have five sacks each.
“This will definitely be the biggest challenge for us,” Roethlisberger said. “There was respect last time we played them, at least from me. ... I respect the heck out of this whole group.”
That includes Ramsey, the outspoken cornerback who ripped Roethlisberger while assessing the league’s quarterbacks in GQ: “Big Ben, I think, is decent at best. It’s not Big Ben. It’s AB. Big Ben slings the ball a lot of the time. He just slings it, and his receivers go get it. He has a strong arm, but he ain’t all that. I played him twice last year, and he really disappointed me.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked up Ramsey, raving about his “above-the-neck game and feel for the passing game” while noting he has the size to play safety and speed to play corner.
How does Big Ben view Ramsey?
“With respect,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s a great football player. ... I’m never going to fear anybody — I don’t care who they are — but you respect it, for sure.”
What Roethlisberger needs to respect most against Jacksonville is ball security, by treating turnovers like Le’Veon Bell: A no-show the Steelers never speak about again, if given the choice.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.