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No-huddle helping protect QB

Posted Nov 26, 2013

He wasn’t sacked in Cleveland and went down just once the previous week against Detroit. But Ben Roethlisberger can’t pinpoint the reason he’s suddenly remaining upright in the pocket.

“I don’t know if it’s one thing,” he said.

At least a couple of things come to mind when assessing what’s suddenly going right with the Steelers’ pass protection.

“The line’s been doing a great job of blocking,” Roethlisberger continued. “And when we do the no-huddle, the ball can get out a little bit quicker because it’s usually some shorter plays, shorter passes if I see things, or if I check to a run.”

The lack of sacks has been a factor in Roethlisberger posting passer ratings of 119.4 against the Lions and 102.2 against the Browns. He has six touchdown passes and hasn’t been intercepted over the last two games, and the Steelers put up 37 points against Detroit and 27 at Cleveland.

Roethlisberger had been sacked an average of 3.8 times per game over the first nine games.

“I know it goes to the line (when blame is assigned for sacks allowed) but it’s not on them,” he said. “It’s on me as much as it is them. And the running backs, picking up blitzes, wide receivers seeing ‘hots’ (sight-adjustment routes against an anticipated blitz). The guys up front, me, the receivers, the tight ends, it’s on all of us (to avoid sacks).”

That’ll especially be the case on Thursday night in Baltimore.

The Ravens are tied for the NFL lead with 37 sacks, led by bookend outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (9).

Baltimore has registered at least two sacks in 19 consecutive games dating back to last season, which ties the 2003-04 Philadelphia Eagles for the best such stretch in the NFL since 1990. The Ravens had three sacks in the first meeting against the Steelers this season (a 19-16 Steelers victory on Oct. 20 at Heinz Field).

And the Ravens have registered an NFL-best 70 sacks at home since 2011.

“It’s going to be a big test, especially being on the road,” Roethlisberger said.

To combat the crowd-noise disadvantage, and the traction the Ravens will get from M&T Bank Stadium’s FieldTurf surface, and the other elements associated with Baltimore’s pass rush, the Steelers may opt to do again what they did against Detroit and Cleveland.

That would include running plays from a steady diet of “empty” sets (with only Roethlisberger in the backfield).

“It gives you more options,” Roethlisberger said. “Usually, defenses have to declare who’s blitzing and who’s not (against an empty set). There are five guys out (as eligible receivers); they have to cover some people. Typically, it’s easier to identify (pass-rushers) and to get the ball out quicker when you have five choices.”

The no-huddle offense likewise can frustrate a defense intent on crashing the pocket. When the ball is consistently coming out of the pocket quickly and the defense just can’t get there, it tends to affect the rush.

“It’s nice because it slows the defensive line down a lot,” guard David DeCastro said. “It gets them a little tired. It makes our job a lot easier.”

Another factor might be the overall maturation of an offensive unit that has had to work around a number of “moving parts,” as offensive coordinator Todd Haley references injured players, and might just now be finding its stride.

“The guys up front are doing a great job,” Haley said. “There’s some cohesion happening. You can see it across the board starting with (center) Fernando (Velasco) and some of the identification things and things like that. At the same time the guys running routes are getting open, getting into routes fast and making it happen. And Ben’s obviously getting it out on time and to the right spots most of the time.

“That’s usually a pretty good recipe.”

Haley said the offense has yet to play the complete game it’s been seeking. He’s embracing Thursday night at Baltimore as another opportunity.

“We’re in the second half of the season, and we’ve got the biggest game of the year,” he said. “This would be a good time to play our best.”

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