Steelers Quarterback Roethlisberger Faces Defensive Pressure

Ben Roethlisbeger was sacked five times and threw four interceptions in Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Giants. He also was knocked down another 16 times.
Ben Roethlisbeger was sacked five times and threw four interceptions in Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Giants. He also was knocked down another 16 times. (By Rick Stewart -- Getty Images)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 27 -- Only a few other Pittsburgh Steelers players remained in the locker room at Heinz Field late Sunday evening by the time Ben Roethlisberger returned to his locker after taking a shower. The quarterback methodically pulled on a pair of jeans, a striped shirt and a tan jacket, then stood to address a group of reporters.

Roethlisberger seemed to be moving without discomfort, and he didn't bemoan any aches and pains he might have had. But it had been a long and punishing day for Roethlisberger as the flaw that threatens to ruin the Steelers' season -- their inability to protect the quarterback -- was exposed again in a loss to the New York Giants.

In a hard-hitting game that ultimately turned on an errant snap on a punt, the Giants had five sacks and four interceptions. Unofficially, Roethlisberger was knocked down another 16 times. It was reminiscent of the Steelers' only other defeat this season, when the Philadelphia Eagles sacked Roethlisberger eight times and backup Byron Leftwich once more.

Yet Roethlisberger spoke without alarm Sunday night, saying he chose to give credit to the Giants' pass rushers.

"They're the defending champs for a reason," Roethlisberger said. "Some of [the sacks] were miscommunication. Some of them were coverage sacks. They did a great job of covering our guys. . . . Late in the game on those third downs, they were pinning their ears back and just coming. And that's hard for an offensive lineman. They have a really good defensive line."

People from other teams who have seen the Steelers play this season said part of the problem is Roethlisberger's offensive line needs to block better. But part of the problem, outsiders said, is Roethlisberger seems to pride himself on being able to absorb big hits and holds the ball in the pocket longer. The consensus around the league seems to be Roethlisberger should release passes quicker for the sake of self-preservation.

Getting pressure on Roethlisberger probably will be the focus for the Washington Redskins when the teams meet Monday night at FedEx Field. The Eagles and Giants aren't the only two Steelers' opponents to have shown the way. Roethlisberger hadn't been sacked in the Steelers' game before their loss to the Giants, a lopsided triumph over the winless Cincinnati Bengals. But he'd been sacked at least twice in every game this season before that.

He had an ailing right shoulder early in the season, and some observers wonder if he'll make it through the season unscathed. On Sunday, Roethlisberger's performance suffered. He hadn't thrown more than one interception in any previous game this season, and he totaled only three interceptions entering the game.

"We didn't play well enough today from top to bottom," Roethlisberger said Sunday night, "and it starts with me."

The loss to the Giants dropped the Steelers to 5-2. They faced the Giants without injured tailback Willie Parker and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was on the inactive list for the game and reportedly is facing a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge stemming from a traffic stop last Thursday. Coach Mike Tomlin announced Friday he would deactivate Holmes for the game and said late Sunday he would meet with the wide receiver Monday.

Holmes issued an apology through the team Monday and presumably will return to the lineup against the Redskins.

"I recognize that I made a mistake and understand the significance of my actions, and will not make any excuses for my behavior," Holmes said in his written statement. "I look forward to putting this behind me and to being accepted by my teammates and the fans as part of this team."

Holmes's replacement in the starting lineup, Nate Washington, had a touchdown catch Sunday and had another touchdown reception nullified by a holding penalty. Still, fellow wideout Hines Ward said in the postgame locker room when asked about the effect of Holmes's absence: "He was a big part of our game plan, and it was too late to change it. You need all your guys when you're playing the world champs. He definitely would have helped us."

The Steelers nearly beat the Giants even minus Parker and Holmes, surrendering a 14-9 lead in the fourth quarter to lose, 21-14. The Steelers lead the league in total defense and had limited the Giants to four field goals until being undone by some fourth-quarter misfortune. Long snapper Greg Warren had torn a knee ligament earlier in the game and was replaced by linebacker James Harrison, who had volunteered to be the backup snapper while doing some snaps on the training camp practice field.

His first snap in a game sailed high over the head of punter Mitch Berger and out of the back of the end zone for a tying safety, and the Giants drove for a touchdown after getting the resulting free kick.

"Injuries happen," Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "That might have been one of the strangest ones. We always take guys who do that for granted. People think it's an easy job to snap the ball, but it's not. We'll bounce back."

The Steelers will have to sign a new snapper this week and address the shoulder injury suffered Sunday by safety Ryan Clark and Berger's hamstring injury. They'll have to see if Parker's knee injury has healed sufficiently for him to come back from a four-game absence. But most importantly, they'll have to devise a way to keep their former Super Bowl-winning quarterback upright.

"We already knew we weren't going undefeated," Roethlisberger said. "It's a loss. You know what? We never like to lose. I'm not sitting here saying it's okay. But it is what it is, as Coach says, and we move on. We stay together, and we get ready for next week."

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