Monday, October 10, 2011
Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown pass against the Tennessee Titans during the game on October 9, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went to see offensive coordinator Bruce Arians last Monday, the day after the team took a 17-10 licking in Houston. He didn't like some of the things that happened with the offense. He wasn't comfortable with being sacked five times and hurried eight other times, not because of the significant physical toll the hits took, but because he felt like he was hurting the offense by holding the ball too long.
"We had a very candid conversation," Roethlisberger said.
Later that day, Arians sought out Roethlisberger to make sure the quarterback didn't misunderstand his message. He recalled this second talk Sunday: "Don't change. You're the best there is as young as you are. Why should you change because everyone is saying you're getting sacked too much?"
Turns out even the great ones need reminded occasionally of just how great they really are.
"It meant a lot coming from him," Roethlisberger said.
Maybe the quarterback and the coordinator should talk more often.
Roethlisberger played one of the best games of his career, throwing five touchdown passes in the Steelers' 38-17 win against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. It was hard to believe he was the same guy who limped out of Houston's Reliant Stadium on crutches, wearing a walking boot on his sprained left foot.
"I'm not the only guy playing with an injury. I'm not going to complain about it," Roethlisberger told a media throng. Later, though, in a quiet moment, he acknowledged the pain was pretty bad. "But I can deal with pain. Once I found out there was no structural damage, I knew I would play. I don't want to let my guys down. I'll be out there until they take me off in a cart ... "
Said Arians, "I wouldn't trade him for anyone for that reason. He's always going to show up and give everything he has."
That was especially important in this game. It wasn't just that the Steelers were coming off the Houston loss and were 2-2. They were playing without injured linebacker James Harrison and defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, three players who have combined for one NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, 10 Pro Bowls and three team MVP awards. Roethlisberger and the offense needed to be on. They were.
Injured offensive tackle Willie Colon might be Roethlisberger's closest friend on the team. He and defensive end Brett Keisel were in Roethlisberger's wedding this summer. He has seen Roethlisberger play hurt in many games.
"He knows the whole team is on his shoulders," Colon said. "It's going to take a lot to sit him down. He's just so tough. Physically, everyone knows he's an animal. But it's his mental toughness that separates him from other guys."
It helped that Roethlisberger was barely touched by the Titans. By my unofficial count, he was hit as he unloaded a shovel pass to running back Ike Redman in the second quarter and when he was sacked in the third quarter when defensive tackle Jurrell Casey beat right guard Ramon Foster. That's it.
The Steelers offensive line -- ridiculed after the Houston game and all season, really -- bounced back nicely. Left tackle Max Starks, who, as teammate Hines Ward put so eloquently, "was sitting on the couch last week," started and played 62 of 64 snaps. He had to go the distance because backup Jonathan Scott had to take over at right tackle in the second quarter for injured Marcus Gilbert (shoulder). There was more shuffling in the third quarter when center Maurkice Pouncey missed six plays with a minor knee injury. Left guard Doug Legursky jumped in at center with Trai Essex filling in at his guard spot.
"Ben always believes in our unit despite how we're playing," Colon said. "I can't tell you how much that means. He knows every guy in our room would take a bullet for him."
Roethlisberger acknowledged getting rid of the ball quickly, saying he didn't look for the "home run every play." He said he simply took what the Titans defense gave him. "They did a lot of soft zone stuff and that left Heath [Miller] and Hines open underneath. I was able to get them the ball and let them run with it."
Don't be fooled into thinking Roethlisberger has changed. He's still going to go for the home run when he thinks it's there. His final touchdown pass was a 40-yarder to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
"He was very sharp with all his reads," Ward said.
Roethlisberger did throw an interception late in the first half because of a miscommunication with Arians. The original play-call was for Roethlisberger to spike the ball to stop the clock. At the last second, he tried to change to a quick pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was lined up right with Ward and Wallace. None of the receivers heard that call and cornerback Cortland Finnegan wound up with an easy interception.
"Too bad because that play was open and would have gone a long way," Arians said.
You know it was a good day when that was all Arians had to complain about.
"We ran the ball a lot better and we blocked a lot better," he said. "It was a nice outing for everybody."
Especially for the tough-as-they-come quarterback.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author