Key goal for the Steelers: Assure Big Ben is ticking


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Rookie Geno Smith will start Sunday at quarterback for the New York Jets, a team that has not had much stability at the position since Ken O'Brien muddled through the 1980s with them.

Jerricho Cotchery experienced a lot of that instability when five quarterbacks started at least half the season while he played for the Jets between 2004-2010. He discovered since then how the other half lives, what it's like to play receiver on a team that has had one franchise quarterback for nearly a decade, Ben Roethlisberger.

"It's so important," Cotchery said, when asked about the difference. "It's just more stable when you have that guy. Not having that guy creates so many problems in your offense, and you're not keeping your defense off the field.

"If you don't have that guy, it really doesn't matter what receivers you have because you don't have a guy who can get it to them. It creates so many problems. When you get a quarterback like that, you're able to see the talent in the receivers, the running backs and what's up front. You're able to see what your team really looks like and what your players really look like."

The Steelers have that in Roethlisberger.


Big Ben By the Numbers

  • Games:

    127

  • Att.:

    3,762

  • Comp.:

    2,374

  • Comp. %:

    63.1

  • Yards:

    29,844

  • TD:

    191

  • Int.:

    108

  • Rating:

    92.7


"Thank God," Cotchery said.

Their offense is without its 2012 MVP and leading receiver, Heath Miller. Their presumed starting halfback, rookie Le'Veon Bell, is hurt and won't play. Their line is relatively new and largely untested. And they lost one of the league's best deep threats at receiver, Mike Wallace, to free agency.

Yet what appears to be an otherwise bland offense has hope because of Roethlisberger.

"When you're stable at the quarterback position and you know you have one of the best players in the league playing at that spot, it's a good place to start," Miller said.

"A lot of teams would like to be in our situation."

Roethlisberger embarks on his 10th season needing 156 passing yards to hit 30,000. He passed Terry Bradshaw's team-record 27,989 in 2012 and, while 35 others have reached that milestone in the NFL, none has done it with the Steelers, a franchise that long put more value in the run than the pass.

If passing 30K means anything to him, Roethlisberger did a good job of faking it when the topic was broached.

"It's all about the team for me. To me, those are things I'll look back [on] when I'm done. A little bit after the season but mostly when I'm done with my career I'll look back and think about how great it might have been."

Roethlisberger never has missed more than four games in a season. He sat out that many because of injury in 2005 and again at the start of 2010 because of a suspension. He missed three in 2012 because of injuries to his rib and right shoulder, and that's when things began to fall apart for the Steelers after a 6-3 start.

It is imperative to them that he stays healthy this season, and a large part of that job falls on that remodeled offensive line.

"That's the emphasis right now," said right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who opened training camp at left tackle.

"We know he's a quarterback who likes to get big-chunk plays. Keeping him healthy, keeping him upright is the most important thing for us."

Added Miller, "As long as we can keep '7' healthy this year, he's going to have us in every game."

Roethlisberger was sacked four times in the preseason. He had about one full-game's worth of play and statistics -- 22 of 33 for 268 yards. That's too many sacks, and, even when he wasn't sacked, he often had to throw on the run and was hit after he threw. At least he came through unscathed.

"I do feel good physically," Roethlisberger said. "That's key one. I feel I got a good enough amount of work in that I'll be ready to roll."

Setting the tone and tempo

Mike Tomlin's teams have won their home opener each of his six seasons, although they lost openers on the road each of the past two seasons at Baltimore and Denver.

"The thing about the first game of the year, it kind of sets the tempo, usually should set the tempo for your season," Roethlisberger said. "We want to come out and set an early tempo."

Unusual tradition continues

Jarvis Jones will continue a tradition of mixed results when the Steelers open the season Sunday against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.

He will join a long list of first-round draft picks on defense who did not start their first game with the Steelers. The list includes Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward.

The previous one to do so was Chad Scott, who started at right cornerback against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1997 opener at Three Rivers Stadium. Scott wasn't, however, the most recent rookie to start an opener on defense. Linebacker Kendrell Bell, their second-round pick in 2001, started at Jacksonville in the first game.

Jason Worilds will start ahead of Jones at right outside linebacker, but Tomlin promised that "Jones is going to play."

"Everybody has a role, and my role is not to start this week," said Jones. "I just have to get in there and make things happen when I can. I think I'll get my chances."

Steelers

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 5, 2013 4:30 AM


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