Commentary

Jets face challenge with Roethlisberger

Gang Green will have a different set of rules when it comes to stopping Big Ben

Updated: January 22, 2011, 1:25 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As if having to go through Peyton Manning and Tom Brady back-to-back wasn't almost an impossible task, the New York Jets now must beat a quarterback who comes with his own set of rules.

If the Jets are going to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 42 years, they'll have to abide by the Big Ben rules they have set.

It doesn't seem like it can get much tougher than beating Manning and Brady, but Ben Roethlisberger presents a different challenge with his lumberjack-like strength and ability to scramble, take a hit and still extend plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The respect for him is that we don't look at him as a diva quarterback," said linebacker Bart Scott, who has had his share of battles with Roethlisberger dating back to Scott's Baltimore days. "We look at him as a football player. A lot of times in this league, especially now, quarterbacks are pretty much playing flag football.

"He's a quarterback that's willing to take the hits and look down the barrel of the gun for his team. I don't think you'll ever see Ben Roethlisberger flinching within the pocket."

Two of the Big Ben rules sound like something straight out of a Black & Decker manual. Stripping and plastering are objectives the Jets will try to accomplish against Roethlisberger.

The Steelers' quarterback will hold on to the ball and try to make a play at all times. Bringing down the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger is as difficult a task as trying to confuse Manning and Brady with a new defensive wrinkle.

For a team like the Jets, who have brought more defensive back pressure on dropbacks than any other team in the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information, it's imperative to strip the ball or try to hold Roethlisberger until help comes.

During the Jets' 22-17 win in Pittsburgh in December, cornerback Drew Coleman stripped Roethlisberger twice. For the 5-9, 180-pound Coleman, forcing a fumble was the best option when coming in on a slot blitz.

"I am not going to tackle him by myself," Coleman said. "I couldn't in 100 years."

But the Jets can't bank on forcing fumbles all the time. That's where plastering comes in.

"We've preached to the defensive guys, the play starts when he gets hit," Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "It's a huge challenge and a very different challenge than the two quarterbacks we faced the last two weeks."

Roethlisberger can take hits better than some heavyweight fighters. And because of that, the Jets' secondary has to be alert and on its feet for longer than usual.

Once Roethlisberger starts to scramble, the Jets will scream out "plaster!" At that point, Jets defenders will take the nearest Steeler and try to stick to that receiver as long as they can no matter if they are in zone or in man coverage.

And if there are two Steelers in the vicinity, the defensive back will take whoever goes long to prevent a big play.

"The plays can last 10 to 15 seconds," cornerback Darrelle Revis said of Roethlisberger's ability to improvise. "Plastering is basically just latching on to your guy. A receiver might run a curl route or a slant, but his next read, if he sees Ben scrambling, then he'll break it off and run vertical or maybe turn around and run to the sideline to get a catch."

The Jets have been practicing plastering all week long. The scout team quarterback was told to scramble often and the receivers have scramble rules, such as going deep while another receiver comes back to the quarterback.

"It's organized street ball, where if the original play is not there, now it kind of turns into a second play," Pettine said. "It's a playground-type mentality. He'll scramble. And three steps into the scramble, he's throwing it."

Or, as Pettine says, Roethlisberger will pump fake and that can lead to some hesitation or a mistake by a defensive back that gives Roethlisberger all he needs to complete a deep pass.

"He's the master at the pump fake," said Pettine, who also has seen Roethlisberger countless times while with the Ravens prior to following Rex Ryan to New York. "He's one of the few guys that can pump fake with his hand off the ball and not lose it. I think that's what gives so many people trouble, you see so many people leaving their feet."

That is what happened when the Jets beat the Steelers in December. On a third-and-17 at the Jets' 33 in the second quarter, the Jets blitzed Antonio Cromartie off the corner. Roethlisberger pump-faked Cromartie into jumping, buying him just enough time to hit Hines Ward for an 18-yard pass.

"We preach to our guys that as he is scrambling and as we are attacking him that it goes against human nature, [but] you never want to accelerate into him," Pettine said. "Always we use the phrase, downshift. And then the other thing is we want to attack the football. It's hard to attack him, because he's so big and so strong that he fights guys off and while he's fighting them off, he's still looking down the field to make a throw."

Roethlisberger completed 23-of-44 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown while being sacked three times in that loss in Pittsburgh. But he still had the Steelers within one play of winning the game.

He drove Pittsburgh down to the Jets' 10-yard line. With two seconds left, Roethlisberger scrambled to his left, had plenty of time to make a play and pumped before throwing. But the Jets went into plaster mode and Marquice Cole was able to tip Roethlisberger's pass for tight end Matt Spaeth at the edge of the end zone for an incomplete pass.

Now the Jets brace for Big Ben a second time, hoping that their Big Ben rules can give them an unbelievable trifecta over Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger and send them to the Super Bowl.

"You're talking about three of the best quarterbacks in the league," Ryan said. "So you don't sleep at night real well. They are all three great quarterbacks. Obviously, his size and strength alone is a difference. Those other two guys are big guys but they are not quite the physical presence that Ben is."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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