Big Ben says first year under Tomlin proof NFL offensive trends aren't passing Steelers by


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Ben Roethlisberger likely would be on a beach somewhere by now with the Steelers' season ended. Instead, he continues to work out at their UPMC facility on the South Side.

That's what happens when you still have to play one more football game.

Roethlisberger continues to prepare for his first Pro Bowl, which will be played Feb. 10 in Honolulu. He has recovered from the arm soreness and sprained ankle that bothered him late in the season.

"I feel great, which is awesome, as good as I've ever felt," Roethlisberger said.

He said he hopes 2007 turns out to be a defining season in his career and that of his offense.

"This year was a solid year for us offensively -- not great, not bad, solid. It was kind of a turning point for us."

Roethlisberger finished second to Tom Brady in the NFL with a 104.1 passer rating and his 32 touchdown passes set a team record after his miserable 2006 marred by various physical ailments. His interceptions dropped from 23 in '06 to 11 last season.

The Steelers, under new coach Mike Tomlin and coordinator Bruce Arians, deployed a more wide-open passing game in 2007 and put more responsibility on Roethlisberger to call protections and to help devise the game plan.

"We're kind of keeping up with the league," Roethlisberger said. "The league is always evolving and offenses are always changing. Right now the offenses around the league -- in terms of who wins -- are pass-dominant offenses. We have started to turn that corner a little bit.

"I'm not saying that we're going to throw the ball 80 times a game, but we have turned that corner in terms of keeping up with the league."

One area of the passing game that did not improve was Roethlisberger's protection. He was sacked 47 times, one more than in 2006 and the second most in team history. The quarterback absolved his offensive line for some of that and blamed himself in part.

"You have to look at it in perspective. You have to look at it as there are times I'm holding the ball too long because I'm trying to make plays. Sometimes when I can throw it away, I'm going to try to prolong a play. Coach Tomlin and I had that talk in that [end of the season] meeting -- you have to live with those sacks sometimes because sometimes I'm going to double pump.

"The sack total to me is skewed. If I threw it away or get it out of my hands right away like I should, then the sack number drops.

"I'm trying to make plays and we live by that sword and we die by it as well. We may lose 10 yards but we might get how many touchdowns by it as well."

The Steelers used the no-huddle more often in 2007, and Roethlisberger sees them doing so more frequently, perhaps even becoming a signature of their offense.

"That's only going to get better. We started doing it more in the second half of the year when we realized we had to. And we realized that's kind of our identity.

"I had that talk with Bruce and Mike a lot, that our identity is kind of going toward this no-huddle -- not super fast, but speed it up a little bit. Throw the ball, mix your runs in because Willie [Parker] is a great sprint-draw guy, a screen guy; hit him real quick and use draws and stuff.

"We realize that's probably the way we're going to go and I don't mind that. I think we have the explosiveness for it and I think we have the personnel for it."

Roethlisberger believes Tomlin, 35, had a good start to his coaching career with the Steelers after replacing Bill Cowher, who resigned after 15 seasons on the job.

"He let his coordinators coordinate, and he got a lot of respect from the guys for that. Nothing against Bill, but it's nice when your coordinator's telling you he's not scared about the ramifications of a coach yelling at him.

"I think he did good. He had to walk a fine line, being a younger guy and trying to be friends but not be friends, trying to be strict but not too strict. He had to walk a fine line his first year. I think it's only going to improve and the relationships he's going to have and the respect guys are going to have will get better. He's going to learn from everything too, just like we do."




Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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