Practice as usual for Steelers' Roethlisberger
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws the ball as offensive coordinator Bruce Arians watches at practice at the team's facility on the South Side yesterday.
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A huddle of reporters around quarterback Dennis Dixon yesterday prompted a response across the Steelers' locker room from Ben Roethlisberger.
"Tell them how you really feel about taking my job, Double D," Roethlisberger said just loud enough.
It also was all Roethlisberger said publicly yesterday. He will wait until today to speak at length for the first time since he took that blow to the head in overtime of the Steelers' 27-24 loss in Kansas City. He answered more questions yesterday afternoon, though, when he lined up with the first-team offense and went through a regular practice.
So far, so good as Roethlisberger has passed all the tests with ease as he returns from the "mild concussion" he received in Kansas City. The biggest test of them all, though, awaits Sunday night in Baltimore.
There, the Ravens are desperate at 5-5, have the NFL's fifth-ranked defense and would love to not only deliver another blow to Big Ben's head but take it as their trophy.
Tackle Max Starks, charged with protecting Roethlisberger's blind side, knows what the Ravens want to do to the recently concussed Steelers quarterback.
"What they want to do all the time, what they talk about all the time in the media," Starks said. "It's nothing new, it's the same old Baltimore, same story, you know, everybody wants to hit the quarterback.
"I mean it's our job as always to make sure we keep him as clean as possible and give him time to make throws. Our group I think has been doing a great job this year."
Roethlisberger probably does not feel any better knowing that the sack by Kansas City linebackers Derrick Johnson and Andy Studebaker that knocked him silly in overtime Sunday was no sack at all.
The keepers of the NFL's official stats ruled yesterday that it was no sack, reducing the total on him in the game to two and his season to 29. They ruled it no play because a holding penalty on Justin Hartwig was marked off.
Baltimore's sacks of Roethlisberger through the years have been infamous, including when Bart Scott nailed him so hard he said he heard the air rush out during a nine-sack day in Baltimore in 2006. The Ravens got him 14 times in two games that season, but, over the past two seasons, they have sacked Roethlisberger no more than about the average NFL team.
The Ravens sacked him three times in the only game he played against them in 2007 and 10 times in three games last season. That comes to an average of 3.25 sacks per game. In the 35 games, he has played over the past two seasons, including playoffs, Roethlisberger has been sacked an average of 3.03 times a game.
Still, the Steelers hope to keep him as much out of harm's way as possible Sunday. That usually would mean get the ground game going, but they have not been able to run against Baltimore, which has the fifth-ranked run defense. They averaged only 71 yards per game against them last season on the ground.
"You have to kind of change it up because they're very stout in the middle just like we are," Starks said. "They have big, big D-linemen and fast linebackers, same as us. So it's tough to run in the middle against them. That's why you have to try to change it up. You have to soften them up a little bit by using the pass, using play-action, by using different schemes. Sometimes, the run gets lost in that, especially if you see a weakness in the secondary."
How many games do the Steelers need to win over their final six to have a shot at defending their NFL championship? Linebacker James Farrior has a good idea.
"This is it right here,'' said Farrior. "This is probably our playoff time right now. We need to go into the rest of these games and treat them like playoff games because we got to win them all anyway in order to do what we want to do."
The situation of the Steelers at 6-4 reminds Farrior somewhat of when they were 7-5 in 2005.
"It's a similar situation, but I think the team's a little different; like every year, the team is going to change. We can go back into our memory bank and use that as a reference, but it's a different team. That team we had back then was a special team and, hopefully, we can bring some of that back."
Is this one special as well?
"Not yet," Farrior said. "We haven't done anything. Six and four, what's so special about that?"
Keyaron Fox, a special teams' co-captain and their tackles leader, admitted that fellow special teamers are a little on edge after the Steelers released two more players Tuesday to try to improve their kickoff coverage.
"Yeah, everybody's pretty much on the edge right now,'' Fox said. "We got some new guys in looking to help out."
Fox said covering kickoffs should not be as tough as the Steelers have made it out to be over the past five games, when four were returned for touchdowns.
"It's the basics. I don't know what's so hard about them, I don't know why we're slipping so hard."
Corey Ivy, the former Baltimore cornerback signed Tuesday to boost the kick coverage, explained why he has had success as a special teamer.
"Just an overall attitude that a young man has to have to run down and get blocked by you-don't-know-who," said Ivy, now 32. "Probably just a want-to and being afraid to fail -- you know, you just never want to let down your teammates, let down your organization, your fans, your friends and family."
The Steelers finally signed quarterback Tyler Palko to their practice squad yesterday after he cleared the 48-hour waivers required of the Canadian Football League.
Palko had been signed to a futures contract by the Montreal Alouettes, who agreed to release him. He will practice for the first time today.
Travis Kirschke, who missed the past three games with a torn calf muscle, went through practice on a somewhat limited basis yesterday.
First Published November 26, 2009 12:20 am