Big Ben standing up - so far - to weekly poundings Print
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Thursday, 30 October 2008 09:41
NFL Headline News

 PITTSBURGH (AP) -When the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl three seasons ago, Ben Roethlisberger's protectors included All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, All-Pro center Jeff Hartings, plus a first-round and a second-round draft pick.
When Roethlisberger went under center Sunday during a 21-14 loss to the Giants - sometimes, the only time during a play he was on his feet - there were new offensive line starters at four of five positions from a year ago.
Right tackle Darnell Stapleton? Wasn't drafted out of Rutgers two years ago. Right tackle Willie Colon? The former Hofstra lineman had game-long problems with Giants pass rusher Justin Tuck and was called for holding to nullify a touchdown pass.
Center Justin Hartwig? Was cut after last season by Carolina. Left tackle Max Starks? Was buried deep on the bench until Marvel Smith was hurt. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu? As Faneca's backup, he started only two games in three seasons until this year.
he Steelers (5-2) lead the AFC North despite that Giants loss. The question is whether he can hold up under nine more weeks of regular season pounding like what he's gotten so far.
``We are 5-2, and he's a big reason why,'' coach Mike Tomlin said.
Roethlisberger has been sacked 23 times and is on pace to go down 53 times, which would tie Cliff Stoudt's 1983 club record. In the last 2 1/2 seasons, Roethlisberger has been sacked a remarkable 116 times; only Jon Kitna (129) has gone done more times, according to STATS, Inc.
For comparison's sake, Marc Bulger (108) is the only other QB to be sacked more than 100 times since 2006. Donovan McNabb, the No. 4 most-sacked quarterback since then, has gone down 77 times - almost 40 fewer than Roethlisberger.
Kitna and Bulger, of course, play for losing teams that often fall behind early and must throw to get back into games. Roethlisberger plays on a strong team that runs the ball as much as it throws.
Still, the poundings go on and on for Roethlisberger, who has been sacked three or more times in four games this season, including a season's high eight against the Eagles. The Giants sacked him five times and put him to the turf twice as many times as that on plays he wasn't sacked.
d. ``We will just continue to work and hopefully alleviate that problem.''
The question isn't how Roethlisberger stands up to all this pressure, but how he stands up at all, even if he brings on some sacks by holding the ball too long.
``It's average,'' Roethlisberger said of his midseason health. ``I'm still standing. I can still play if I have to. I've got the regular bumps and bruises.''
He also has a slightly separated shoulder, one that has bothered him since the second week of the season and now causes him to regularly take off practices.
Being forced to throw on the run and while under pressure is taking another toll; his interceptions are up. Roethlisberger has seven in seven games, four against the Giants, after having only 11 while throwing 32 TD passes last season.
Not that he'll get much injury sympathy in a Steelers locker room in which running back Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder), guard Kendall Simmons (ankle), long snapper Greg Warren (knee), quarterback Charlie Batch (broken collarbone), and punter Daniel Sepulveda (knee) already are out for the season.
There's more.
g with a dislocated shoulder that probably will keep him out of the Monday night game in Washington.
``It seems like this is one of the most injured years for teams around the NFL,'' Roethlisberger said. ``We've got a lot of beat-up guys. It's going to be tough.''
Another worry, he said, is, ``When you start losing guys, you never know what you've got left.''
Sometimes the Steelers have found their bench was deeper than expected. Third-down Mewelde Moore was the only healthy running back after Parker and Mendenhall went down and has responded with 303 yards and four touchdowns, one on a reception, in three starts. But the Steelers are beginning to get very thin in the secondary and the offensive line.
Still, as tight end Heath Miller said, it's obvious what the Steelers must do to stay atop their division with games remaining against the Redskins (6-2), Colts (3-4), Patriots (5-2), Cowboys (5-3), Ravens (4-3), Titans (7-0) and Browns (3-4).
``The first priority is to protect Ben,'' Miller said.
 

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