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Saturday, October 29, 2011
Big Ben's the center of attention

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When it was suggested that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was comparable in size, Albert Haynesworth's brow furrowed a tiny bit but he didn't object to the insinuation.

Standing 6 feet 6 inches and weighing 350 pounds, few players in the NFL are as big as Haynesworth. But having tried (unsuccessfully) to wrestle down the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger in the past, Haynesworth could understand the idea behind the suggestion.

"Even if you hit [Roethlisberger], you might not take him down," said Haynesworth, the same guy who earlier this season hauled down Miami running back Reggie Bush with just one arm while falling to the ground, showing just how difficult it is to shake free from his grasp.

Ben Roethlisberger
Putting pressure on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is one thing; getting him to the ground is another.

"[Roethlisberger is] a guy that can break a lot of tackles, get away from the rush," Haynesworth said. "Even if you hit him and he's going down, he can still throw the ball. With him, you definitely have to emphasize finishing the [pass] rush and finishing the tackle."

A Patriots team scrutinized for a lack of a pass rush last season did a tremendous job putting Roethlisberger on his back in last year's meeting, producing a season-high five sacks in a 39-26 triumph at Heinz Field. To put that in perspective, it took the Patriots their next four games to register five more sacks and the team finished with 36 on the season.

When the Patriots return to Heinz Field on Sunday for the latest installment in the battle of the AFC's elite, putting pressure on Roethlisberger -- and preventing him from keeping plays alive by shedding those tackles -- might be the most important task for the New England defense.

"We have to be able get him down on the ground, because it's very tough," said defensive captain Vince Wilfork. "You watch film and there are a lot of guys falling off him. There are a lot of guys that think they have him, but they don't have him, where at the last minute he flicks the ball. I think this is the only guy that you have him wrapped up and he can flick the ball 30 yards down the field still."

While much has been made this week about the success that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (6-1 career record) has enjoyed against Pittsburgh, New England is also one of the few teams in the league to have overwhelming success against Roethlisberger.

In six career games (one playoff meeting), Roethlisberger is 2-4 against New England, completing 110-of-190 passes (57.9 percent) with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions (three of which came in the 2004 AFC title game). What's more, the Patriots have sacked Roethlisberger 13 times during five regular-season meetings, often blitzing with more frequency than their typically conservative approach displayed against the rest of the league.

It's clear the Patriots have put a premium on not allowing Roethlisberger to beat them when these teams meet.

"He makes a lot of plays with his legs and arm," said Wilfork. "Most times, you have quarterbacks that either scramble to run or scramble to throw. I think Ben does both. I think they have a good understanding with their receivers [that] if he gets out of the pocket, you have to uncover. They do that very, very well. What we have to do up front is be able to get him down on the ground because he is a big guy."

Get him on the ground -- that's the Patriots' mantra this week. And they have one of the best at doing that this season. Veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis boasts 3.5 career sacks in two regular-season meetings against Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

What's his secret?

"You just gotta rush at him," said Ellis. "Just gotta get after him. He does a great job keeping plays alive, moving around in the pocket, finding open guys. We just gotta get around him, get him on the ground.

"Don't try to go for the kill shot -- just grab his arm, get him on the ground."

Roethlisberger evaded defensive end Mark Anderson in the one game he played against him with Chicago in 2009. Anderson has quickly picked up the game plan.

"You gotta have like 11 bodies on him at all times -- surround him," said Anderson. "You gotta get pressure on him, and get him down."

The Patriots released nickel corner Leigh Bodden in a bit of a shocker this week, and rookie cornerback Ras-I Dowling (hip) was placed on injured reserve Saturday. That leaves a secondary that ranks last in the league in pass defense dangerously thin, but maybe that makes the ability of the front seven to put pressure on Roethlisberger even more important.

Even Big Ben acknowledges that.

"I think DBs get frustrated and they start holding and they try and grab and do different things," Roethlisberger said of the pressures his scrambling can cause. "Because it's a hard thing, first off, just to cover a wide receiver in this league on a three-, five- or seven-step drop. You start adding a couple seconds and receivers moving all over the place [and] it's incredibly difficult."

Almost as difficult as putting Roethlisberger on the ground.

Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.