Breaking Down the Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger’s stats declined from last season to this one, but sometimes he’s at his best when his numbers aren’t. (By Chris Graythen -- Getty Images)

THE QUARTERBACK

A Leader Above and Beyond Statistics

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wedneday, January 28, 2009

Nobody seems to do more while looking less spectacular than Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback who has a chance to win his second Super Bowl in four years. But this seems to be his key to success — he’s a strong, steady leader who seems to win the big game even if he doesn’t look great doing it.

Despite his early success, with a 13-0 record in his first regular season and a Super Bowl title in his second, many felt he had slipped. At times, as his offensive line has failed him, Roethlisberger has looked almost robotic, afraid to cut loose. Yet once this postseason arrived, Roethlisberger seemed to recover his confidence almost magically.

Statistically he regressed this year. In 2007, he had 32 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions and a 104.1 quarterback rating. This regular season, he had only 17 touchdowns and was intercepted four more times than last season. His rating dropped to 80.1.

Nonetheless, the Steelers dominated this season and are in the Super Bowl, which speaks to Roethlisberger’s value as a leader. Sometimes he’s at his best when his numbers aren’t as good.

He is streaky at times, but it’s hard to tell when he will go into a slide or rise to the top. Even in games where he has looked horrible early, he has responded to make critical completions in the second half.

The best way to beat him is to bring lots of pressure. He is not a running quarterback, and wide receiver Hines Ward, one of his most reliable targets, is not fully healthy. Therefore it will be critical for the Steelers line to block well for him. If it does, if he has time, he has a great chance to hoist the Super Bowl trophy again.

Roethlisberger played poorly in his first Super Bowl, completing 9 of 21 passes for 123 yards and a two interceptions. He said after arriving in Tampa earlier this week he would be more relaxed this time.

“You never know if it’s your last one. I hope I’m here five more times. But who knows?” Roethlisberger. “You never know in this league. There are so many greats who never get here or only get here once. That’s why I’ve taken the approach that I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.”

KEY MATCHUP

Harrison
Cardinals offensive line vs. Steelers pass rush: Arizona relies on QB Kurt Warner, so he needs to be comfortable in the pocket. So far, the offensive line has protected him well in the playoffs. That unit must continue to keep Warner upright against the AFC’s top pass rush. The Steelers led the conference with 51 sacks, second in the NFL to Dallas. LBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are relentless pass rushers who are quick enough to get around offensive linemen and strong enough to push them aside, too.

FOUR DOWNS

Run Parker: Pittsburgh is at its best when QB Ben Roethlisberger can hand the ball off to RB Willie Parker and let him get through the line. At times, the running attack has been downright dominating. But it has struggled at other moments. Roethlisberger is not going to win this game with his arm. Parker is going to have to take some of the load on himself, controlling the clock.

Special Steelers: In their two playoff victories, the Steelers played exceptionally well on special teams, making critical field goals, pinning opponents deep into their territory and even scoring when needed. Santonio Holmes's punt return for a touchdown against San Diego in the second round got Pittsburgh started at a point when it looked a bit lost.

Get Turnovers: Cardinals QB Kurt Warner is prone to making poor decisions at times and forcing throws. The Steelers have thrived off turnovers this season, converting fumble recoveries and interceptions into great scoring opportunities. They will have to force Warner to make at least two big mistakes.

Pass Protect: The Steelers' offensive line has been much maligned this season, and for good reason. Much of the year it seemed as if opposing teams’ pass rushers poured in on QB Ben Roethlisberger, leaving him exposed and stalling the attack. If the line blocks as it did in playoff victories over San Diego and Baltimore, Pittsburgh is going to be tough to beat.

Game Info

WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.

TV: WRC-4, WBAL-11.

RECORDS: Steelers 14-4, Cardinals 12-7.

RADIO: WTEM-980 AM.

Steelers'
Projected Starters

OFFENSE
WR 86 Hines Ward
LT 78 Max Starks
LG 68 Chris Kemoeatu
C 62 Justin Hartwig
RG 72 Darnell Stapleton
RT 74 Willie Colon
TE 83 Heath Miller
WR 10 Santonio Holmes
QB 7 Ben Roethlisberger
TE 89 Matt Spaeth
RB 39 Willie Parker

DEFENSE
LE 91 Aaron Smith
NT 98 Casey Hampton
RE 99 Brett Keisel
LOLB 56 LaMarr Woodley
LILB 51 James Farrior
RILB 50 Larry Foote
ROLB 92 James Harrison
LCB 24 Ike Taylor
RCB 20 Bryant McFadden
SS 43 Troy Polamalu
FS 25 Ryan Clark

SPECIAL TEAMS
PK 3 Jeff Reed
P 17 Mitch Berger

Steelers' Team Stats

CATEGORY PIT OPP.
PPG 21.7 13.9
YPG 311.9 237.2
PASS YPG 206.3 156.9
COMP.-ATT. 303-506 (59.9%) 301-533 (56.5%)
RUSH YPG 105.6 80.2
ATT.-AVG. 460-3.7 390-3.3
1ST DOWNS 289 240
3RD DOWN EFFICIENCY 95-232 (40.9%) 71-226 (31.4%)
4TH DOWN EFFICIENCY 3-12 (25.0%) 10-21 (47.6%)
INT.-YDS 20-290 15-15.6
SACKS 51 49
PEN.-YDS 95-812 91-801
TOP 31:41 28:19

Stats  |   Roster  |   Depth  |   Schedule

Playoff Schedule

FIRST ROUND

Saturday, Jan. 3

Arizona 30, Atlanta 24

San Diego 23, Indianapolis 17

Sunday, Jan. 4

Baltimore 27, Miami 9

Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 14

SECOND ROUND

Saturday, Jan. 10

Baltimore 13, Tennessee 10

Arizona 33, Carolina 13

Sunday, Jan. 11

Philadelphia 23, N.Y. Giants 11

Pittsburgh 35, San Diego 24

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Sunday, Jan. 18

Arizona 32, Philadelphia 25

Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14

SUPER BOWL

Sunday, Feb. 1

Pittsburgh vs. Arizona, 6 p.m. (NBC)


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