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Steelers

Jags to see Steelers' new Roethlisberger

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007

The Jaguars blitzed Ben Roethlisberger early and often when the Steelers visited Jacksonville last September, and it's not hard to figure out why.

Roethlisberger was only a couple of weeks removed from an emergency appendectomy when the Steelers played the Jaguars, and he was making his first start of the season.

To say the Jaguars wanted to see if the Steelers quarterback could take a hit or 10, given what he had been through, might be an understatement.

"That would be a good assumption, I guess, to make," Roethlisberger said Wednesday when asked if he thought the Jaguars put extra pressure on him to test him given the circumstances. "(The game) kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. It wasn't my best game by far last year."

But Roethlisberger is far different from the quarterback who threw two interceptions in a 9-0 loss to the Jaguars last year. He is having as good a season as any quarterback other than Tom Brady and could make the first Pro Bowl of his career.

Roethlisberger has thrown 26 touchdown passes -- he needs just three more to set the Steelers' single-season record -- and just 11 interceptions.

He and Jacksonville's David Garrard are two of the four NFL starters with passer ratings that exceed 100, and each has risen this season -- Garrard from obscurity and Roethlisberger from the nightmare that was 2006.

Roethlisberger threw the most interceptions (23) in the NFL last season, and his trying times in 2006 weren't limited to the field.

He endured a near-fatal motorcycle accident and the appendectomy before the season even started, and he never seemed to find a comfort level on the field as the Steelers stumbled to 8-8.

"Ben's a totally different quarterback from last year to now," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "He's more confident. He has a better understanding of our offense."

His emergence as an elite quarterback may make the Jaguars think twice about how much they try to pressure Roethlisberger, especially since he has proven to be so adroit at escaping trouble in the pocket.

One thing that did jump out at the Steelers' offensive players as they were watching film of last year's game is how frequently the Jaguars blitzed Roethlisberger.

"I think we really didn't pick it up at first," guard Alan Faneca said, "and they saw something, and they just stuck with it and rode it the rest of the game."

They rode it to a shutout of the Steelers, who never made the Jaguars pay for all of their blitzing by hitting them with a big pass play.

Roethlisberger completed just 17 of 32 passes for 141 yards and averaged only 8.3 yards per completion. The Jaguars sacked him only twice, but it seemed like they had Roethlisberger on the run the entire night.

"They were blitzing like crazy and putting hits on Ben, and it really makes it difficult for the passing game to get in sync," Ward said, "so we definitely have to worry about picking up the blitz adjustment and make plays more in the passing game. If we protect well, I think we'll be fine."

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