Flacco aka BIG Ben Lite Resembles Roethlisberger?
When Joe Flacco gets behind center on Saturday in Pittsburgh, his chances of leading the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game may depend on how much he resembles the guy the Steelers defense looks at all week in practice.
Our Joe Cool probably doesn't want to be thought of as Big Ben Lite, but it's hard not to see some similarities to the quarterback who stands in his playoff path for the second time in three years.
"They're similar in a lot of ways,'' coach John Harbaugh said during his Monday news conference. "They both have very strong arms, they're both very smart guys, [and] they both are accurate."
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It doesn't stop there. The reason Flacco is compared more often to Ben Roethlisberger than to the other elite AFC quarterbacks is a matter of both style and substance. They are both big, tough, blue-collar players who can beat you with their bare hands.
"Ben's bigger,'' Harbaugh said. "Ben is 260 pounds or something like that. You stand next to him, you can tell he's just a bigger, thicker kind of a guy. But I think Joe's done a really nice job in the pocket, especially recently and especially in this last game. He's been avoiding. He's been throwing guys off a little bit, doing some Ben-like stuff. But when you can challenge the pass rush by taking off and running, that is big for your offense as quarterback."
Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs, who saw Flacco at his best in Sunday's one-sided playoff loss at Arrowhead Stadium. When the running game sputtered early in the game, he basically lifted the offense onto his big shoulders and carried it to the Ravens' most satisfying all-around performance of the season.
He found receivers almost at will, and when he didn't, he pulled the ball down and bedeviled the Chiefs defense with his legs. It wasn't the first time he has done that during his three-year pro career — remember that 38-yard touchdown run against the Bengals in his NFL debut — but it was another sign that he has evolved into the kind of quarterback who can go nose-to-broken-nose with somebody like Roethlisberger for all the marbles.
"I thought for him to come up in a playoff game — and he's had a few of those and he's played well enough to win three times before this, so that's been a big plus for us — but I thought he kind of took the game over at times during the course of the game,'' Harbaugh said. "And that was really good to see. That's positive.
"This week's a whole new challenge. I don't think you can take anything from one week to the next, and it was also guys stepping up and playing well around him — receivers making plays, offensive line, coaches putting guys in position. All those things, I think, Joe would tell you are a part of it."
Of course, if the Steelers figure to have more to worry about with Flacco, the Ravens always seem to have their hands full with Big Ben, who defeated them in the AFC title game at Heinz Field two years ago and has had the upper hand in the regular season. He has beat the Ravens all five times he has faced them during the Harbaugh/Flacco era.
The Ravens thought they had him at M&T Bank Stadium a month ago until Troy Polamalu forced that late fumble to set up the winning touchdown that would end up giving the Steelers the playoff bye and home-field advantage for this game, but you still have to give Roethlisberger credit for playing with a broken nose for most of that night.
"I was impressed,'' Harbaugh said. "He's a Miami [Ohio] guy. He's a tough guy. He had the broken nose. I was glad we broke his nose, and I was very impressed that he played through it. Obviously, you can throw very effectively with a broken nose. He proved that."
Harbaugh was half-joking about the hit that Haloti Ngata put on Roethlisberger, but he was dead serious about what it will take to stop him.
"We're going to try to get after him like we always do," he said. "It's going to be really important. He knows that. That's the key to stopping him. You've got to get him down. You can't let him extend plays, and when he does extend plays, you've got to cover those guys. And that's easier said than done."
Meanwhile, maybe Flacco can channel his inner Roethlisberger and move the Ravens one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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