On the Steelers: Big Ben taking hits at record pace



One reason the Steelers forced Bruce Arians out the door as offensive coordinator after the 2011 season was their belief that his offensive scheme did not do enough to protect Ben Roethlisberger from pass rushes.

Roethlisberger was getting sacked more than any quarterback in the league — 215 times in five years, including his career high of 50 sacks in 2009.

Well, Arians is long gone but the sacks of Roethlisberger are up. He has been sacked 26 times in 2013, fourth most in the NFL and on pace for a career-high 59. If he plays all 16 games, that is.

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He has been sacked 370 times — 406 including postseason games — in his career, more than anyone in those 10 seasons.

“It’s frustrating,” said Marcus Gilbert, who has started every game at right tackle and continues to improve his grade there. “Coaches aren’t pleased with that. I know he’s not. I wouldn’t be, either. We have to take pride in that and get better.”

The offensive line has undergone many changes since the start of the season because of injuries and poor performance, but as usual they are not the sole culprits in why Roethlisberger has been sacked so often. Others would include the 30th-ranked running game, the early deficits (outscored, 54-19, in the first quarter) that force them to pass more often to try to catch up and Roethlisberger’s style of play.

It is not necessarily coordinator Todd Haley’s scheme that is causing his quarterback to get hit more often. The scheme worked well when Roethlisberger was sacked only 18 times in the first nine games last season before he was hurt.

Roethlisberger also has escaped a number of sacks thanks to his strength and ability to shake his way loose.

Whatever the reason, the increased effort to protect the 31-year-old quarterback — a goal team president Art Rooney II mentioned early in 2012 — has not worked.

Back when Roethlisberger was much younger and winning Super Bowls (he was sacked 46 times in 2008, which also was the only time he played all 16 games), it was not a big deal. It has become more pronounced this season because the Steelers are 2-5 and he’s not a young athlete any more.

“He’s the toughest quarterback in the league but after a while, obviously you get sick of that,” Gilbert said of seeing his quarterback knocked down so often. “Any of us would. He’s trying to get the job done and he feels pressure every time or gets hit with shots to the leg or to the head. We have to take more pride in it. Whether it’s change up the scheme or just get better with the line — and the injuries aren’t helping.”

Asked how he feels physically after getting hit more often than at any time in his career, Roethlisberger laughed.

“I am all right so far. As long as we slow it down soon,” he said.

His teammates, though, see on Mondays the damage done each game.

“It stinks to see him come in the next day limping around, barely walking,” Gilbert said. “You got to be better, you have to take pride in that.”

Kelvin Beachum, who replaced an ineffective Mike Adams at left tackle the past three games, agreed.

“We have a great quarterback,” Beachum said. “Our goal is to keep him upright as much as possible. I know he’s won, I’ve seen him win despite sacks, but our job is to keep him as clean as possible.”

Revolving door

There are only 32 punting jobs in the NFL at any moment, but those moments and those punters can change in one shank of a boot. And sometimes those changes just do not make sense.

Take the Steelers, for instance. Rookie Drew Butler punted all last season for them, but they signed the NFL’s punter of the decade for 2000-10, Brian Moorman, to compete with him at training camp.

They cut Moorman after camp and Butler made their 53-man roster again, but not for long. Six days before their opener, they cut Butler and signed Zoltan Mesko, who had just been cut by New England.

In the meantime, on Oct. 6, Buffalo cut Shawn Powell, an All-American punter for Florida State in 2011 who knocked Moorman off the Bills roster in 2012. The reason? So they could re-sign Moorman.

On Tuesday, the Steelers worked out two punters to replace Mesko, Mat McBriar and Powell. They chose McBriar, twice a Pro Bowl punter for the Dallas Cowboys, who cut him in March 2012 and ultimately replaced him that season with … Moorman.

What could have been

Emmanuel Sanders could be playing for the other team Sunday, and by all appearances the Patriots could have used him as Tom Brady continues to throw to perhaps the worst group of wide receivers he has had in New England.

The Patriots signed Sanders to a one-year, $2.5 million contract as a restricted free agent last spring. But the Steelers matched that and, by rule, were able to keep him.

“It was pretty cool what took place this offseason,” said Sanders. “Not only the New England Patriots wanted me. There were other teams that were involved. I worked extremely hard when Mike [Wallace] and Antonio [Brown] were here. I felt like I was hidden a little bit. It felt good to know that other teams recognized my talents.”

Sanders has 31 receptions for 396 yards, both second on the team, and two touchdowns. If he does not sign with the Steelers after the season, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

“It’s not on my mind,” Sanders said of what might have been for him in New England, which is 6-2. “What happened this offseason happened. I had an opportunity to go over there, but the Steelers matched that tender and I’m happy to be in the black and yellow. Right now I’m playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we’re searching for win No. 3 and that’s all that’s on my mind.”

Quick hits

• The Steelers’ sack differential of minus-17 — they have allowed 27 (including one of Brown in a passing situation) and registered 10 — is tied for worst in the AFC with the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.

• Guard Ramon Foster returned to a full practice, as did nose tackle Steve McLendon, Roethlisberger and tight end Heath Miller. Guard David DeCastro (ankle) did not practice again, nor did cornerback Curtis Brown (listed as not injury related). Receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) was limited.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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