Steelers’ line trying to keep Roethlisberger upright
Ben Roethlisberger talked of having a short memory after carving up Indianapolis’ secondary last Sunday. He feasted on the Colts, chalking up record-setting numbers.
The Steelers quarterback quickly shifted his focus from a 522-yard, six-touchdown performance to a Baltimore Ravens defense that tormented him earlier this season during a 26-6 defeat at M&T Bank Stadium.
“There’s no point in sitting here dwelling on the past when we have a big one this week,” Roethlisberger said.
The Ravens, coming off a controversial finish in a 27-24 loss at Cincinnati, will lean heavily on their recent past, particularly against the Steelers.
Baltimore isn’t likely to complicate things when it suits up at Heinz Field on Sunday night. Again, the Ravens will try to seize control of the game by getting after Roethlisberger.
In their previous meeting, the Ravens harassed Roethlisberger throughout and recorded two sacks — including a thunderous, jaw-jarring blow by linebacker Courtney Upshaw that drew a roughing penalty.
More importantly, the Ravens roughed up the Steelers offensive line, enabling linebackers C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Upshaw to consistently flush Roethlisberger from a splintered pocket.
This time, the Ravens will face an increasingly confident offensive line.
“It’s personal when we play Baltimore,” said right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who expects to return to the lineup after missing last Sunday’s game with a concussion. “I had this date circled on my calendar.
“You’re never going to feel good physically after this game. It’s going to be physical in the trenches.
“I like the demeanor we came out with in practice,” added Gilbert, who struggled in Baltimore. “We can feel the urgency of the moment. This is the best the offensive line has been since I’ve been here. We’ve grown up — even since the first Baltimore game.”
Still, the offensive line will be challenged to stave off Suggs. The six-time Pro Bowler and former defensive player of the year has been a menace to Roethlisberger, recording 16 sacks in 11 seasons.
“He’s one of the best that plays the game and that’s rushing the passer,” Roethlisberger said. “(Suggs) has a high motor.
“I have a lot of respect for him, and we’re just trying to keep him off me.”
Suggs isn’t lacking incentive in this matchup of AFC North rivals. He needs two sacks to reach 100, and a victory will give the Ravens a sweep of the Steelers and a possible decisive leg up in playoff scenarios.
Suggs, though, hardly is Roethlisberger’s only problem. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil leads Baltimore with seven sacks compared to the team-high three registered by Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward.
The Steelers front line, anchored by All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, has been dominant during a stretch in which the Steelers won consecutive games for the first time since last December.
“It’s a continuous process, but we have figured out what they do well,” offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. “My job is to get them organized and get their confidence up. As you play, you should get better as you go.
“If we don’t play well, it’s unlikely we’ll win. We’re headed in the right direction.”
The offensive line largely was inconsistent during the Steelers’ 3-3 start. But it turned things around in the second half of a 30-23 win over Houston two weeks ago.
Roethlisberger was sacked three times in the first half against Houston. But the Texans and Colts were manhandled by an offensive line that hasn’t allowed a sack in a game and a half.
The Colts were credited with hurrying Roethlisberger once. Roethlisberger didn’t have an Indianapolis defender within an arm’s length of him on 40 of his 49 throws.
Guard David DeCastro said an effective ground game helped keep Colts pass rushers idle. The Steelers rushed for 99 yards against the Ravens in Week 2, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent the Ravens from disrupting the passing game.
“When you score points, the defense can’t sit back and tee off on Ben,” DeCastro said. “It makes it a lot easier. When we’re an effective offense, we’re going to look good on the offensive line.
“We had a good mix of running and passing against Indianapolis. They couldn’t predict what we were doing, which helped the offensive line a lot.”
The offensive line, sparked by the play of backup right tackle Mike Adams, overcame a poor showing in a 31-10 loss at Cleveland. Against Houston, Adams enabled the Steelers to take control of the line of scrimmage.
Adams transformed from understudy to arguably the Steelers’ most efficient offensive linemen the past two weeks.
Yet he is set to return to his backup role against the Ravens.
Adams’ performance, coupled with that of backup Cody Wallace, who filled in admirably for left guard Ramon Foster for two games, reflects the growth of an offensive line that has evolved from a perceived liability to a strength during a two-game win streak.
“After the Cleveland game, it was an end-of-the-world kind of thing,” DeCastro said. “Now everyone is coming in here and telling us how good we are. We’re just doing things right.”
Kelvin Beachum, a second-year starter at left tackle, said the offensive line’s recent stellar play won’t impress the Ravens.
“We don’t have time to pat ourselves on the back,” Beachum said. “We all hold each other accountable, and we’re making demands of one another. We know when to push each other’s buttons and when not to.
“We know the Ravens-Steelers game is different than any other. … It’s a physical, nasty game. A lot of stuff is said, and things are done within the lines. We’re not trying to get into a fighting match or talking trash. We’ll be trying to win the game.”
The offensive linemen are convinced the difference between winning and losing will depend on how well they protect Roethlisberger, especially against the Ravens.
“They are going to do what they do, which is getting after the passer,” Adams said. “We’ll expect a lot of crazy stuff from them, which is normal. But it’s more about what we do.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].