On the Steelers: In another test vs. best, Big Ben can stand tall
October 23, 2014 12:00 AM
Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass against the Houston Texans Monday night at Heinz Field.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Only three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL won their 100th game by their 150th start. Two are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the other is headed there.
They are Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
Ben Roethlisberger can become the fourth. All he and the Steelers must do is beat the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at Heinz Field. It will be his only chance to match the other three because that will be Roethlisberger’s 150th regular-season start.
“I guess if you play long enough, you’re going to get those milestones,” was Roethlisberger’s reaction.
Well, no, not this one. Plenty of quarterbacks played many years without achieving 100 wins, never mind in their first 150 games. Roethlisberger always maintained that his most important statistic is wins and this would put him in rare company, not to mention two of the other three having strong Pittsburgh connections. Bradshaw and Montana each won four Super Bowls, Brady has three, Roethlisberger two.
“The guy is just a tremendous quarterback, he’s a future first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
Pagano knows what it’s like to prepare his team to play against Roethlisberger. As the Baltimore Ravens secondary coach and then defensive coordinator from 2008-11, his defenses went against Roethlisberger six times in the regular season (Roethlisberger missed two games against the Ravens in that time) and two playoff games.
With Roethlisberger playing, the Steelers went 6-2 in those games, including both in the postseason.
“I’ve gone against him obviously numerous times, some good and a lot of bad,” Pagano said.
Pagano detailed why it was so difficult preparing to play Roethlisberger.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s accurate, he’s got great, great vision, strength. You can’t get him down in the pocket. The way he’s able to throw on time, throw on rhythm, throw the deep ball and the way he can extend plays and escape and brush off would-be blitzers and things like that and find guys, it’s amazing.”
Roethlisberger brings the Steelers into the game with a 4-3 record and, with the Ravens following the Colts on the schedule, perhaps facing a crossroads with two 5-2 teams to play at Heinz Field the next two Sundays. The Roethlisberger-led offense ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per game but just 21st in points per game.
Roethlisberger ranks sixth in the AFC with a 96.0 passer rating — a rating consistent through most of his career — and has completed 65.9 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
“You turn on the tape and he doesn’t look any different,” Pagano said. “Today he looks better.”
“He’s completing 66, 67 percent of his passes. He’s only thrown three interceptions. He’s managing the game extremely well. He’s getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers. From a physical standpoint it looks like he’s in great shape. The movement, the mobility is still there. The arm talent has not diminished; he still throws one of the nicest balls in the entire National Football League — deep balls, check-downs, crossers, it doesn’t matter.
“He’s got it all. His anticipation, his vision, his awareness, especially when things are breaking down and [he is] finding guys and dumping the ball off and getting to his check-downs. He’s playing really good football.”
He will have to do so to beat Pagano’s Colts, who feature perhaps the best young quarterback in Andrew Luck. It will be the first time Luck and Roethlisberger play in the same game but Luck feels he has been with Roethlisberger before, especially in his rookie season of 2012 when Bruce Arians was his offensive coordinator and then acting head coach.
“When I was a rookie,” Luck said, “I watched a lot of Steelers tape to try and learn Bruce Arians’ offense and ended up watching a lot of Ben, the things he did, still does … amazing!”
Luck said what he learned most from watching those tapes is that Roethlisberger’s “ability to extend plays is incredible, maybe the best in the league.”
“What he does in finding an open guy when something breaks down, I know as a quarterback if you can do that even now and then it can be demoralizing for a defense and he does a great job at it.”
Roethlisberger has played against the best in his time — Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco.
Sunday, he adds another in Luck.
“He’s emerging as one of the best in the league and a lot of us saw that coming,” Roethlisberger said. “I always enjoy watching other quarterbacks because anything you can take, older or younger, and use it in your game, I think you have to do it.”
Roethlisberger has certainly seen some of the best, and if he wins Sunday, No. 100 will come faster than it did for any of them.
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