On the Steelers: Roethlisberger makes strides in passing
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Ben Roethlisberger grimaced and leaned over to knock on his locker, which is made of wood.
This was no time to start jinxing the Steelers quarterback who has discovered the elixir that cures interceptions and sacks, even if inquiring minds wanted to know the secret to avoiding them.
"Maybe it's just lucky, maybe it's just not taking too many of the crazy chances I took before," Roethlisberger said. "But I don't feel I'm playing a different style of ball. Maybe I'm just making better throws."
His past 158 throws have not been intercepted and, of his 389 passes this season, only five were picked off. That is an interception rate of just 1.3 percent, the lowest of his career and the first time under two.
This, even though he played with two rookie receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, especially during the second half of the season when those two moved up to 3-4 behind Mike Wallace and Hines Ward.
Rookie receivers can kill a quarterback, but there only was one major, obvious error committed by them when Sanders did not recognize a hot route and thus broke up a pass intended for Hines Ward at a critical moment of their 20-10 loss at New Orleans. But then, veteran receiver Santonio Holmes cost them a game last season when he ran the wrong route and Roethlisberger was intercepted for a touchdown in a three-point loss at Cincinnati.
"You have to be a little more careful," Roethlisberger said about playing with rookies. "But those guys are good. You try not to put them in a situation to have to worry about it -- you know, those high balls and balls to the side, stuff like that; those are the ones that usually get tipped and picked. If you can try and put it on them, it usually eliminates that.
"Those guys are doing a good job of running the routes and doing the right things, so it makes it easier for me."
His sacks also are down this season, from 50 in 15 games last season (3.33 per game) to 32 in 12 games this season (2.67). That is a drop of nearly 20 percent, and, while Roethlisberger credits his line, there are other factors.
One, he has scrambled away from pressure more successfully this season. Roethlisberger ran 34 times for 176 yards, third most on the team. That is his second-highest rushing total of his career, exceeded only by his 204 in 2005. His 5.2-yard average per rush also is second only to his 5.8 of 2005. Last season, Roethlisberger ran 40 times for only 92 yards.
A second factor is his knack for getting rid of the ball more quickly. He acknowledges consciously trying to do that, and it especially seemed to work well the past two games.
"The line did a great job this week, especially picking up the blitzes and different things," Roethlisberger said. "But, if you get the ball out of your hands quick -- I took a couple of check-downs this week, and little things -- you get the ball to playmakers."
His coaches have noted in the past that many of Roethlisberger's sacks came not because of poor protection but because he holds the ball longer than most, trying to extend a play and find an open receiver.
"My style of play is to try to make a play, and that usually entails holding onto the ball," he said. "Sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn't. Maybe this last game there weren't any real scramble pass plays. Maybe that's just the way the game worked out, that there wasn't any particular reason."
He finished with 3,200 yards passing, his fifth consecutive season over 3,000, extending his team record. His 97.0 passer rating was the fifth highest of his career and also represents the top five best in team history.
• Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons ended inside linebacker James Farrior's long reign as the team's tackles leader. Timmons had 100 solo and 149 total. Farrior, who led the team the previous four seasons and six of the previous seven, finished second with 99 solo and 137 total.
• Receiver Mike Wallace led the NFL with seven 100-yard games. Although he did not make the Pro Bowl, his 1,257 yards were third in the AFC. His 21.0-yard average per catch led the AFC and his 10 touchdown catches tied for third in the AFC. He just missed becoming only the third receiver in NFL history to lead the league in average per receptions in his first two seasons after leading with 19.4 as a rookie. DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia averaged 22.5 yards.
• Hines Ward failed to lead the team in receptions for the first time since he led them with 61 catches in his second season in 1999. He finished one behind Wallace, 60-59.
• Troy Polamalu's seven interceptions ties for the most in the team's past 15 seasons. The other seven-interception season: Polamalu in 2007. His 27 career interceptions moved him into 10th place in team history. Mel Blount owns the record with 57.
• Five Steelers completed at least two passes this season, the first time that has occurred since the NFL merger in 1970: Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Antwaan Randle El.
• Defensive end Aaron Smith watched practice Tuesday, and it appears as if he will not return to play for the Steelers' Jan. 15 playoff game. Center Maurkice Pouncey, who left the game Sunday at Cleveland in the third quarter after getting hit on the head, practiced.
First Published January 5, 2011 12:00 am