Anatomy of Ben Roethlisberger's success against Raven
By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun
6:47 PM EST, January 13, 2011
Like a ghostly apparition from their past, Ben Roethlisberger will materialize in front of the Ravens on Saturday in Heinz Field and try to vanquish their Super Bowl aspirations for the second time in three seasons.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' seven-year veteran has been equal parts quarterback, magician and tormentor to the Ravens while winning his last six starts against them, often in extraordinary fashion.
There was the phantom touchdown throw to Santonio Holmes — who did not appear to break the plane of the goal line — that beat the Ravens, 13-9, at M&T Bank Stadium in December 2008 and won the AFC North title. (What's with bird teams anyway. First seahags, then Trudnials in the SuperBowl, and now the Ratbirds. What do they have in common? Whine, whine whine, here the endless whine. They can't admit we beat their butts. - mesa)
There was the Houdini-like escape and pass to Holmes a month later in Pittsburgh that ended in a 65-yard touchdown and 23-14 win in the AFC championship game.
Just a month ago in Baltimore, after some defensive wizardry by Troy Polamalu, Roethlisberger completed a third down pass to Isaac Redman with 2:51 to play to rescue a 13-10 win and send the Ravens into the playoffs as a wild card for the third straight year.
By the slimmest of margins, Roethlisberger has been unbeatable the last three years against the Ravens, winning all five matchups — by a total of 22 points — against coach John Harbaugh.
Facing another date with Big Ben in Saturday's divisional round playoff game in Pittsburgh, Harbaugh said early in the week that "it's our turn."
"Yeah, it bothers me a lot," he said when asked about his 0-5 record against Roethlisberger. "I'd rather we [had] won. We want to win those games. Obviously, he's a really good quarterback. We've had a history here, for whatever reason, in the last three years."
This week, the Ravens insisted Roethlisberger is not in their heads, despite his improbable run of theatrical finishes to the heated and bitter rivalry.
"I think we always go into the game feeling we're going to win, feeling very confident," said cornerback Chris Carr, who opted to sign with the Ravens rather than the Steelers in 2009. "And I don't think there's ever a feeling like, 'Oh, well, here we go again, he's going to beat us.'
"I think mentally, with the guys on our team, we really kind of don't let that [feeling] persist and get where we can't respond and not have confidence."
Diane Finley is a psychology professor at Prince George's Community College with a Ph.D. in sports psychology. She counsels local athletes and athletic teams. And Finley says there are essentially two ways to deal with that situation.
"You can either sit and ruminate and let them get into your heads," she said. "Or I think you can have players or teams use it as a motivator to not let it happen again. You do that by studying film and becoming even more prepared than you thought you were previously. (Hey doc, we are in their heads big time. You could have a full time practice treating Ratbirds after we kick their butts again this Saturday. - mesa)
"I think you can tell whether Roethlisberger is getting into their head if you see little mistakes they don't normally make when the defense is on the field against him in the first couple possessions."
A former Baltimore Colts fan — and now Ravens fan — who lives in the Baltimore area, Finley said she would have the Ravens looking at film of their previous successes against Roethlisberger and have them focus "on the process, not the outcomes."
"You have to learn when you do make a mistake, you look at what happened and correct it, but then you have to let it go," she said.
The Ravens are focused on Roethlisberger's unique ability to escape the pass rush, extend the play and then capitalize against a scrambling defense.
"There's a lot of times when he's outside the pocket that he's far more dangerous than when he's inside the pocket," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "And that's not to say he's not good when he's in the pocket. But his ability to throw accurately on the run and on the fly and just create stuff is just uncanny."
Johnson still carries the weight of the 2008 championship game loss in Pittsburgh, the closet the eight-year veteran has gotten to the Super Bowl. He specifically remembers how the Ravens were physically beaten up going into the game, yet managed to push it into the fourth quarter before the Steelers prevailed.
And Johnson understands the ramifications of losing a game like that.
"This could be a huge game," he said. "This could be a game you remember forever … playing Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the opportunity to perhaps have a home game and go on to the AFC championship. There's a lot of pressure that comes with that, but you can't feel that pressure. You've just got to treat it like any other game and go out and prepare and play your [butt] off."
In 10 career starts against the Ravens, Roethlisberger is 8-2. In 11 games overall, he has thrown for 2,357 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He has thrown for a touchdown in every game except one (a 27-0 loss in 2006 when he was sacked nine times). He does not have a 300-yard passing game against the Ravens, but he has thrown for more than 200 seven times.
His passer rating has been over 100 only once (125.1) and that came in his first start against Baltimore in 2004.
What separates Roethlisberger from other quarterbacks is his knack for extending plays, avoiding sacks and making the pass that changes a game.
There is the play that is called in the huddle, and then there is the play that unfolds when Roethlisberger's protection breaks down. That's the play that leaves the Ravens' defense most vulnerable.
"I just think he has subtle movements that he does that people can't teach," Carr said. "He throws the ball very well on the run. Most receivers in this league, if you have them covered initially, the play is dead. But the play is not dead for them. That play usually starts like four seconds after the [snap]. And it's difficult to cover anybody" for that long.
The Ravens will focus on their rush lanes this week and try to gang tackle the quarterback, who rarely ever goes down from one hit.
"Some quarterbacks will go down when they get people around them," said nose tackle Kelly Gregg, "but not him. The play's never dead with him and that's something you've got to watch out for. It's tough to play against. You just got to get lots of helmets on him and get him down."
But after six straight losses to Roethlisberger, Gregg agrees with Harbaugh's assessment that it's the Ravens' turn.
"He's had some good luck," Gregg said of the Ravens' nemesis. "Maybe that luck's run out." (It's isn't luck loser and are we going to feast on you. - mesa)