Ben Roethlisberger has said it time and time again. It's no secret. It's one of the things he says more than anything. While many lump praise on Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown for the success the Steelers' offense has had this season, Roethlisberger quickly points out whenever he can that it all starts up front with the play of the offensive line.
The line of Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva, have been Roethlisberger's 'body guards' on the field, allowing just 17 sacks, the fewest in Roethlisberger's 13-year career and the reason he is feeling good heading into the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
"I feel good," said Roethlisberger. "I think it's because of how well the line has played. By far the fewest sacks I have ever taken in a year. I think we ended up number two in the league in least amount of sacks. That just speaks for those guys and their determination, how good they want to be and how great they really are."
Roethlisberger said one of the reasons the Steelers not only run the ball so well, but so often, is because it's what the line loves to do and they are always asking for more running plays.
"We are going to call plays that are successful," said Roethlisberger. "If we are running the ball and doing it well, we are going to keep calling it. There have been times this year that they're asking for, let's go do this, and I'll go tell Coach (Todd) Haley they want this, the line wants this, let's do it. A lot of times it's run plays. They want to pound people and get up there and maul people. When they ask for something, we strongly consider it."
Pouncey and DeCastro were both Pro Bowl selections this season, which should come as no surprise, but Gilbert is one who despite the incredible season he has had, has flown under the radar somewhat. His play has been beyond solid, and he has played through a myriad of bumps and bruises.
"When you see him out at practice he looks kind of like RoboCop," said Roethlisberger. "He's got his hand bandaged up, elbows, knees, ankles. He's a banged up guy but he is playing through it all. He fights through it all.
"His heart and determination speaks volumes for what that whole group does. He wants to be out there with the rest of the guys. It's almost like if one of them is not out there, they are the outcast for the week. He is one piece of that cog, that puzzle that is up front that is special. That whole group is the reason we have the success that we do."
More from Ben:
On what role he and the offense has had in helping the young defense come along: "I think when they first got here, like you said, everyone knew about how good they (the defense) were. And I think that they help make me and our offense better. So I give them credit for that. And I like to think our offense has now, in turn, helped make our defense better, as a younger unit on defense. We're kind of more of a veteran group on offense, and I think we've been able to—you go against them every day in practice, whether it's seven shots, in training camp, whatever it is—and I like to think as an offense, we've helped our defense get better [and] build confidence. Because you see what they've been able to do. They're playing at a really high level right now, and it's fun to watch."
On if he ever imparts wisdom on any of the young defenders: *"Well, [Ryan] Shazier, I think, has done an awesome job. He comes to me and asks me what he can do to be a better player. What he can do to be a better leader. What he can do to breakdown film. Things like that. So some of those younger guys who are kind of taking that leadership role, coming and asking me for help, I've done everything I can to try to help them." * On the way the defense has taken off the past couple of weeks: **"You look at stats. They've gotten after the quarterback, sacks are up, turnovers are up, not giving up the big play. I just think they're playing with a lot of confidence and that's what you have to do, especially this time of year."
On where Malcolm Butler ranks among the top corners in the NFL:"Well I mean if you start putting rankings on things then you're going to slight certain people and elevate others. I think that he's a very, very good corner that I'm going to have to be aware of where he is, and I think that's as good of a compliment as I can pay someone is that I'm going to keep my eye on him."On what makes Butler so good:"Well, he does a lot of good things. He covers down the field. He's very quick in underneath stuff. He obviously studies, and I don't want to say he guesses, but he's able to jump routes and understand what's going on. Then his ball skills, when the ball's in the air he doesn't panic. He can make a play on it and intercept it and not just bat it away." On how much a role Mike Tomlin plays in the team being healthy through days off or erring on the side of caution with returning to action:"Yeah, I think that's helped. I know the League mandates how many padded days you're allowed to have and all the new rules that there are, but I think he does a good job of knowing the guys, knowing the veteran guys, listening to some of the guys when they say 'hey, this would be a good day. Give us a day,' or whatever it may be. So he's a player-type coach that will listen to the guys as long as we're being honest with him."
On what it would mean for the offense if Ladarius Green is able to play:"Well he's another weapon. Another guy out there that can stretch the field, work the middle of the field, and hopefully create mismatch problems with linebackers."