Such is life when a defense chases after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But there’s a new issue that’s been added to the challenge — with the NFL’s effort to protect the quarterback, the Patriots will have to be aware of flags while trying to take down Roethlisberger on Sunday at Heinz Field.
With his mammoth size, defensive players have used every tactic short of going all “Last Boy Scout” on him. They jump on his back, swing him around and do anything conceivable to force him to the ground.
There are two layers with that now. First, officials know one of Roethlisberger’s greatest assets is his ability to keep a play alive, so they might be a little more hesitant to blow the whistle when he’s wrapped up. Second, the Patriots know how easy it can be to draw a flag for using excessive force on a quarterback, which is sometimes necessary with Roethlisberger. When they get to him, they’ve got to walk a fine line of getting him down without ticking off an official, especially since there’s still very little consistency with these flags.
“We have to be able to get him down on the ground without roughing him, without being too rough with the quarterback,” Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. “We have to be smart on our end, but at the same time, we have to be able get him down on the ground because it’s very tough. You watch film and there are a lot of guys falling off him. There are a lot of guys that think they have him, but they don’t have him, where at the last minute he flicks the ball. I think this is the only guy that you have him wrapped up and he can flick the ball 30 yards down the field still. You have to be very, very cautious with how you tackle him and make sure you get him on the ground without it being a roughing penalty because of a quarterback.”
Wilfork has been fined in past seasons for hits on the quarterback, and defensive end Andre Carter and linebacker Rob Ninkovich have each been fined $15,000 for hits this season. They understand the risk of crossing the blurry line that’s been drawn by the league, and it almost puts them in an impossible position.
Basically, they’ve got to do what they can to drop Roethlisberger and hope the official won’t get a little too trigger happy with his yellow laundry.
Ninkovich, who missed a tackle on Roethlisberger last season, knows how much of a challenge it could turn out to be.
“If I get an opportunity to wrap him up, just try to bear-hug him, get him high because he’s such a strong guy,” Ninkovich said. “If you get low on him, he’s just going to shake you off. Hang on for dear life, and hope your other teammates come to take him down with you. Last year, I had one chance to get him, and he gave me the old stick-[and-move] out of the pocket. For a big guy, he’s real, real mobile in the pocket of just getting out of bad situations. You see all the time watching tape, and there are guys hanging on him and he’s still getting the ball, switching hands and throwing it downfield. Keep his arms from being able to throw the ball would be a good thing, especially with him looking to get rid of it.”
There’s no science to it, but Ninkovich joked about one way to practice it this week.
“Yeah, we’ll give [Albert] Haynesworth the ball,” Ninkovich said, “and see if we can take him down.”