Buffalo guard Doug Legursky can offer good advice to the Bills’ defensive backs in trying to contain Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday.
Legursky started 17 games for the Steelers over the previous four years and knows all about Roethlisberger’s ability to keep plays alive.
“Being in that system for so many years, the No. 1 coaching point we always had for ourselves is no clocks in your head,” Legursky said. “There’s no time where you should think the ball should be gone or is gone, because you never know when he’s going to scramble out of the pocket, break a tackle and throw a touchdown pass.”
Roethlisberger is the most sacked active quarterback in the NFL. He has been taken down 375 times in his 10-year career, or 2.79 times per game. That’s more than double the rate at which Denver’s Peyton Manning gets sacked (1.13 times a game) and almost double the rate for New England’s Tom Brady (1.93 times a game).
It’s a trend that could work in Buffalo’s favor. The Bills’ defense ranks eighth in sacks per pass attempt. Pittsburgh is giving up the fifth most sacks in the league per pass attempt.
However, the Bills’ defenders this week sounded more wary of Roethlisberger’s ability to make big plays than giddy about the potential to pad their sack totals.
“It’s more about adjusting the play clock in your head,” said safety Jairus Byrd. “Even though it may look like he’s getting sacked, you still make sure you get in coverage, get deep, because you can’t trust that he’s down.”
“That’s usually when the play starts, whenever he starts moving around,” said defensive end Mario Williams, who has 11 sacks. “It’s that type of capability he has of getting out of the pocket, shaking guys off, guys having clear shots at him. That’s really when the play starts. If you don’t get him down, it’s just bad for us. We all gotta keep hunting and get after it.”
It often takes more than one defender to take down the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger.
His willingness to hold onto the ball is a big reason he has the second best yards per attempt of any active quarterback. Roethlisberger’s average is 7.91 yards for his career, behind only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, at 8.19 yards.
How good is that? The Bills haven’t had a QB match Roethlisberger’s career average for a single season since Jim Kelly in 1991. Kelly’s career average was 7.4 yards per attempt. Trent “Captain Checkdown” Edwards averaged 5.7 yards in 32 starts for Buffalo.
“We’ve always kind of said the sacks and me holding onto the ball are a double-edged sword,” Roethlisberger told Buffalo reporters on a conference call. “I say this just about every week, I don’t intentionally try to hold onto the ball and make a big play. Sometimes there’s just nothing there, and the competitor in me doesn’t want to give up on the play.”
“So I’m going to try to extend it and do what I can to make things happen. Sometimes good things happen, and sometimes bad things happen. We’ve lived by it and died by it at times.”
The Steelers more often have lived by it. Roethlisberger’s career record is 89-45.
“You look at the success they’ve had over the years, and the arrow points directly back to him,” said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
“Ben’s been in this league for a decade,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “He has a style of play in which he plays. It’s produced a lot of positivity for us. It’s done with one purpose in mind, and that’s winning. I like who and what he is as a quarterback.”
No one is blaming Roethlisberger for the fact Pittsburgh is 2-6 this season. He’s getting little help from his running game. The Steelers are 28th in rushing yards and have the second fewest rush attempts in the league.
Meanwhile, the usually dominant Pittsburgh defense ranks 31st in defending the run.
That has put more pressure on Roethlisberger to make plays.
“He’s confident in his ability that he’s going to make the first guy miss,” said Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. “He might make the first two miss. He has great pocket awareness. He’s not super fast, where he’s going to scramble for a ton of yards. But when the opportunity presents itself to run for a first down, he’ll do it. He’s such a better athlete than people give him credit for. He’s such a big man they don’t realize this guy’s a point guard.”
“It comes down to almost like street ball, school-yard,” Byrd said. “If you got a guy or if you find a guy, whoever’s next to you, stay with him.”