OWINGS MILLS, Md. — There’s no real secret to beating Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger despite the Ravens not being able to do it since 2006.
In parts of games, Baltimore has had success over the last three years — just not for the necessary 60 minutes.
“Keep him in the pocket, get him on the ground, and play through the whistle,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Maybe even sometimes play after the whistle with him, because he’s that type of guy.”
Easier said than done, as the Ravens painfully remember most recently in their 31-24 playoff loss last January when Roethlisberger completed a 58-yard pass to Antonio Brown on a third-and-19 play with less than two minutes to go. Former defensive coordinator Greg Mattison elected to rush three on the play as the Ravens failed to apply the necessary pressure on the Pittsburgh quarterback.
It was a lesson new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano hopefully learned while observing as the Baltimore secondary coach. The Ravens know better than anyone that the need to pressure Roethlisberger can’t be overstated.
“It’s huge,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “If you just look at history, you know. I just go back to 2008. We lost all three games on extended plays by him, so it’s been a huge point of emphasis. It was in ’08, ’09, it was last year, and it will be a huge point of emphasis in this opener. You’ve got to take care of him.”
In recent years, the task of toppling the Steelers quarterback has grown even more difficult with the addition of several speedy receivers who can stretch the field. It poses a greater challenge for a Baltimore secondary expected to start third-year player Cary Williams and rookie first-rounder Jimmy Smith at the two cornerback spots.
Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has everyone gone on the record stating Smith needs to worry about him and his wideout brethren despite having the pedigree of being the 27th overall pick in April’s draft.
“They can all fly; they’ve got a great group,” Pagano said. “They’ve got the wily, old veteran in Hines Ward, who does a lot of the dirty work for them and is still playing at a high level. With Wallace and Brown and the rest of that crew, they can all take the top off the secondary.”
That speed makes the need to pressure Roethlisberger even more crucial, but where will it come from? Despite registering a franchise all-time low of 27 sacks a year ago, the Ravens failed to acquire an impact pass rusher in the abbreviated free-agent period.
Though hybrids Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle have made strides this preseason, the Ravens might view rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee as their best chance to improve the pressure off the opposite edge of Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs on passing downs. However, the Baltimore defense showed creativity when vanilla typically rules in the preseason, using plenty of blitzing from the secondary to disrupt opposing quarterbacks.
Safety Bernard Pollard might prove to be the secret weapon in creating more havoc on quarterbacks by using his exceptional instincts in blitzing from the defensive backfield. At least that’s what Pagano’s hoping, anyway.
“You can bring him from almost anywhere on the field,” Pagano said. “He’s a blitzer, he’s a dynamic blitzer, [and] he times up things. And he’s a big guy. He’s 228 pounds. When he comes, we call him the angry man; he’s coming mad.”
As most continue to ponder options for the pass rush and the ability of the young cornerbacks to get acclimated to the speed of an NFL regular season, perhaps the Ravens’ biggest weapon in creating more pressure on the veteran Roethlisberger is their new coordinator. Pagano’s sense of humor and swagger reminds you just a bit of Rex Ryan, but his aggressive style — at least early on — might just be what the Ravens need as opposed to Mattison’s conservative tendencies.
It may not be the “Organized Chaos” that Ryan made famous when Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Jarret Johnson, and Ed Reed were members of the 2006 defense that pulverized Roethlisberger in two wins by a combined score of 58-7. Those five, along with punter Sam Koch, are the only players remaining on the roster that have tasted victory against a Roethlisberger-led Steelers team.
Pagano’s experiences over an extensive collegiate and professional coaching career will try to put the Ravens in position to end their current 0-7 streak against Pittsburgh’s signal caller.
“I think probably the thing that has changed with Chuck more than anything is the defensive systems that he has been in have allowed him to pick and choose what he likes,” said special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who coached with Pagano in Cleveland. “He has evolved tremendously because he has been in different systems, including, of course, the Ravens’ defense. That has allowed him to really grow in his football toolbox, so to speak.
Even with all those factors coming together in the Ravens’ favor, it still might not be enough against Roethlisberger, who has taken his team to Super Bowls in three of his first seven seasons. As much as the Baltimore defense might hate to admit it at the end of the day, he’s just really difficult to beat in crunch time.
The Ravens know better than anyone.
“I think it’s just his resilience to go down,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I think he knows that if he can break a tackle or two, he can make a big play for his team. That’s what good players do — they make plays for their team. He knows that, and that is just part of his game.”
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Chuck Pagano, Cam Cameron, Jerry Rosburg, Marshal Yanda, Anquan Boldin, and Tom Zbikowski before Thursday’s practice.