Too many overreact to Rooney II

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Art Rooney II is pretty reliably a plain-spoken guy, most particularly for a lawyer, yet, when he offers his rare public analysis of the Steelers, you would think from the confused blowback that he had gone off on the potential implications of the complex jurisdictional issues in the $9.5 billion environmental lawsuit brought against Chevron by Ecuador's government.

Except that, in these matters, people actually pay attention.

When he mentioned after a 9-7 season in 2009 that he would like to see the club run the ball more consistently when it needed to, his audience extrapolated that to indicate a widespread playbook shredding and a total deconstruction of the Mike Tomlin-Bruce Arians mindset relating to offensive football.

By the time training camp came around, Rooney v. Passing Emphasis, 2010 was all but legal precedent, when, in reality, all Rooney meant was that when and if the ball is handed off, maybe there ought to be some running room.

This week, of course, Rooney mentioned to our own Ed Bouchette that Ben Roethlisberger might have to "tweak" his style of play "a little bit."

Right, a little bit.

That is an interesting if hardly portentous observation, but in the ever-roiling 24/7 Steelers news cycle, even the most benign observation from Art Rooney II ends up like a sparrow sucked into the engine of a Boeing 777.

So before the turbines rip every last feather into a billion shards and the endless media blab transforms a dead bird into a baby grand piano, here it is again:

"I'm not sure if I'd say change [Ben's] style of play," Rooney said. "He may need to tweak it a little bit, but Ben is Ben, and you wouldn't want to try to convince him to completely change his game. A lot of what he does is the reason he is successful. On the other side of the coin, he is turning 30, and we do need him to stay healthy and taking fewer sacks would probably help that equation."

Ben was sacked 40 times this past season, more than anyone except Alex Smith, who went down 44 times but somehow wound up playing in the NFC championship game Sunday for the San Francisco 49ers anyway. There is no point in arguing that the Steelers' long-term football fortunes would have a better prognosis were Roethlisberger not on the ground so often, but we might not be talking about any of this had Ben taken one fewer sack, the one that left him with a high ankle sprain the night of Dec. 8.

As it happens, there is a load of stale irony surrounding that moment.

Between April 30, 2006 and Sept. 3, 2010, the Steelers signed and waived former Penn State defensive tackle Scott Paxson six times. Had they just signed him for go-around No. 7, they might have saved their own No. 7 on that night and ultimately retained the ability to extend their season beyond the wild-card round.

Paxson broke into the pocket that Thursday in the uniform of the Cleveland Browns and recorded the only sack of his consistently undistinguished NFL career. Ben's passer rating that night was a season high 129.6, but, after that, he never exceeded 75.9. Charlie Batch, spelling him against St. Louis, posted a 79.4. After Paxson, Ben was Batch, minus a tweak or two.

Rooney's observations regarding his $100 million quarterback are otherwise perfectly modulated. You certainly would not want to change the way Roethlisberger goes about his football business in general.

He is one of only two humans to have won two Super Bowls before turning 27 (Tom Brady is the other) and one of only 10 humans to win multiple Super Bowls in a career (the balance of that trivia answer being: Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Bob Griese, Jim Plunkett, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach and Brady).

On the other hand, Ben's not God, and probably not even God's nephew, identified in the famous Tim Tebow Saturday Night Live skit as -- Tom Brady. Ben's not Tom Brady.

If you go by the league's final passer ratings, you can find three guys named Matt were better at this job this season than Ben: Ryan, Schaub and Stafford. There were another half dozen who rang up figures superior to Ben's 90.1. So let's not pretend No. 7 couldn't do with a "tweak."

The Steelers want him to get rid of the ball faster, the way teams that have studied Dick LeBeau's defense for years have found a way to do, thus avoiding the Blitzburgh factor that this year yielded only 35 sacks. That sounds like a pretty good idea.

That's all Art Rooney was saying the other day.

Naturally, by the time we get back to Latrobe, it'll seem like the entire point of training camp is deconstructing Ben.

Maybe they should start by having him throw left-handed. I've seen him do it in the portion of practice where cameras are allowed. Tell ya what, to my knowledge, Ben Roethlisberger has never been sacked while throwing a left-handed pass.


Wonder if he'd wear No. 8.

Gene Collier:


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