NFL

Roethlisberger poses huge problem

FOX Sports SPORTS XCHANGE, J.P. Pelzman
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Trevor Pryce has an idea to help the Jets prepare for brawny Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It's simple, really.

The problem is it's not exactly feasible.

"The only way you prepare for Big Ben," said Pryce, a Jets defensive lineman who faced Roethlisberger many times while a member of the Ravens, "is if we could bring him in here and let him run our scout team. Then (he would) go back to Pittsburgh and we'll play (Sunday) and we'd have a better feeling for him."

It's doubtful the Steelers will agree to that, so the Jets will find another way for their defense to get ready for Sunday's AFC title game against Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

Devising schemes to contain the elite passers in the AFC has become a weekly challenge for the Jets.

They only sacked Peyton Manning once and didn't create a turnover, but did an excellent job of keeping the Colts' receivers in front of them in a 17-16 victory at Indianapolis in the wild-card round. Other than a 57-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring, the Colts failed to reach the end zone.

The game plan against Tom Brady on Sunday was decidedly different. The Jets brought relentless pressure from all angles, racking up five sacks and seven quarterback hits. They weren't concerned about yards — Brady threw for 299 with a pair of touchdowns — but focused on taking away the middle of the field and yards after the catch.

Roethlisberger's combination of size and pocket awareness makes him a different challenge altogether.

"You can't prepare for instincts," Pryce said. "It's hard to ask (backup quarterbacks) Kellen (Clemens) and Mark Brunell to act like Big Ben. That's not going to happen. They're not him."

And although backup rookie offensive tackle Vladimir Ducasse's 6-foot-5, 325-pound size might somewhat resemble the 6-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger's bulk, Ducasse probably can't replicate his throwing arm.

Big Ben "can run," said the 290-pound Pryce. "He's as big as their left tackle. I'm big and I've bounced off him many a day. You can't blitz him and those type of things. We have to make him stay in the pocket, but even then he'll kill you."

The Jets were able to limit Roethlisberger somewhat in their 22-17 victory at Heinz Field on Dec. 19. He went 23-for-44 for 264 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions despite being sacked three times.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis helped limit trusted receiver Hines Ward to two catches for 34 yards that day. But depending on the Jets' game plan with their pass rush, Revis could see more time against deep threat Mike Wallace in the rematch.

Nickel back Drew Coleman had two strip-sacks in the Week 15 meeting.

"Drew Coleman, I think, did it best last time," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He did sack him twice because he knocked the ball out. There was no way Drew was going to get him down. It's like, 'Hey, I think it's a lot easier just to get the ball out.' Maybe that's a strategy we all need to take.

"I would've made (Roethlisberger) a defensive end when he came out (of college)," Ryan said with a laugh. "Obviously, he has the heart. He's tough; a competitor. He's anybody's kind of quarterback. Anybody would love to have that."

Ryan made it clear he very much likes the toughness of his quarterback, Mark Sanchez. But both Pryce and Ryan admitted the Steel-tough Roethlisberger is Ryan's type of player.

"One thousand percent," Pryce said with a smile. "If he was on this team, he'd play outside linebacker. Anytime you get your nose broken like that and go back out there and go win a football game, you're a Rex Ryan guy."

Roethlisberger was suspended for four games at the start of this season for violation of the league's personal conduct policy. But while his image was tarnished, he rebounded with a strong season. Big Ben threw for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns with five interceptions, playing all 12 games he was eligible for despite a broken nose and assorted other injuries.

"You try to rattle him," Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha said. "The problem is that Ben does as much rattling of guys as guys do to him."

"The guy is a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of football player, one of the two, three biggest challenges in this league, because you can't prepare for what he naturally does," Pryce added. "How do you prepare to tackle a guy as big as a polar bear? How do you prepare for a guy who can flick a ball 50 yards at the drop of a dime? How do you prepare for a guy who can run like he does?

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"How do you prepare for someone who wants to win like he wants to win?"

Roethlisberger displayed that competitive fire in the previous meeting. The Steelers trailed by five points when they got the ball at their own 8-yard line with 2:08 left. But staring at all that real estate, Roethlisberger almost pulled the game out with a classic drive.

He completed four passes on the drive for a total of 74 yards and had a 22-yard scramble for a first down (but also lost 14 on a strip-sack which he recovered himself). He got the Steelers all the way to the Jets' 10, but threw incomplete on the last three passes. The Jets were helped by some good fortune on the drive, as the officials neglected to cite safety Dwight Lowery for grabbing Emmanuel Sanders' jersey. Had it been called, that penalty would have given Pittsburgh more time, as it would've had a first down at the 8 with 24 seconds left.

"It's really street ball," Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said before that game. "The play doesn't really start until he gets hit."

Ryan and Pettine's game plan against the Patriots was so brilliant that, as Pryce said, "it seemed like we had 15 guys out there."

They may need that many to tackle Roethlisberger in the open field Sunday.

J.P. Pelzman covers the Jets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

Tagged: Colts, Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Trevor Pryce, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Coleman

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