The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 5, 2012

Breaking Ben: Eagles know key to game is sacking Roethlisberger

PITTSBURGH — For a big guy, Ben Roethlisberger goes down quite a bit.

Roethlisberger has been sacked an NFL-high 177 times since 2008, including eight times in his last regular-season game against the Philadelphia Eagles four years ago.

That beating is fresh on Roethlisberger’s mind as the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) prepare to host the Eagles (3-1) on Sunday. Byron Leftwich had to finish up a 15-6 loss in Philadelphia on Sept. 21, 2008 after Roethlisberger took a hard hit from Brian Dawkins in the fourth quarter.

“They got after us and sacked me a bunch,” Roethlisberger said. “It was a very frustrating game. I remember after that game going to one of my teammate’s houses and saying ‘I don’t know if I can do this much longer.’ They wreak havoc on you and they create a lot of issues.”

Roethlisberger didn’t quit, of course. He was back on the field the following week for an overtime victory over Baltimore, and he wound up leading the Steelers to their second Super Bowl championship in four years that season.

“I believe,” he said, “that year ended up pretty good for us.”

Despite knocking Roethlisberger around in their last meeting, don’t tell the Eagles he’s easy to bring down. At 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, Roethlisberger is one of the biggest quarterbacks in the league. To hear some of the Eagles, you’d think Roethlisberger was a defensive lineman.

“He’s about 260, 270 pounds, so arm tackles are not going to tackle him in the pocket. Grabbing one leg or something like that won’t work against him,” linebacker Jamar Chaney said. “Most quarterbacks, you probably can do that, but with him you can’t. When he gets outside the pocket, some of their receivers just take off down the field and he just throws it up.”

Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole is the only one of the six players who sacked Roethlisberger four years ago still with the Eagles. He agrees with Chaney.

“He’s a big guy. You can’t tackle him low, so you have to tackle him high,” Cole said. “That’s one of the keys to getting him on the ground.”

If they don’t, Roethlisberger can cause several problems for defensive backs. Though he’s certainly not in the scrambling class of Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton, Roethlisberger has a knack for escaping trouble and turning potential losses into big gains.

Many of those long pass plays occur when he’s moving out of the pocket and throwing down field to a receiver that’s wide open because the defenders came up to try to make a tackle on Roethlisberger.   

“He extends plays, he’s very strong in the pocket, and he has mobility,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He always keeps his eyes down the field. He keeps every play alive. As a secondary player, you better continue to cover your player until the play is history and it’s over, or he’s going to make you pay for it.”   

The Eagles are having trouble sacking quarterbacks smaller than Roethlisberger.

After finishing tied for the league lead with 50 sacks last year, they had only seven in the first month. The Eagles not only didn’t sack Eli Manning in a 19-17 win over the New York Giants last Sunday, but they didn’t even register a hit on him.

Cole had 11 sacks last year and Jason Babin had 18 as both speedy ends thrived in defensive line coach Jim Washburn’s wide-nine system. But Cole and Babin have four combined sacks so far. Maybe seeing Roethlisberger will spark a breakout game.  

“It’s coming,” Cole said. “I’m going to let you know it’s coming. We’re going to keep working hard at what we’re doing. We’re having some great practices and keep digging and trying. It’s going to come, it’s going to pop. We just have leaders who keep working hard and doing what we’re doing.

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