While he might not try to do it quite as often as he used to—largely because he’s both better able and now more frequently designed to execute quick-release passes—but Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still remains capable of being one of the deadliest passers on scramble drills in the National Football League.
That was something that we saw illustrated to great effect last week at the end of the third quarter as he connected with Antonio Brown for a breakaway 78-yard touchdown that breathed some life into a desperate Steelers team. And that is precisely what the Denver Broncos will be trying to avoid today.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods made this a point of emphasis during the week, and spoke about it during media availability. “It doesn’t affect what you do in terms of what we’ll call, but guys have to understand that they’re going to have to cover them twice”, he said.
“He’s going to escape, he’s going to move around the pocket, and you can see receivers running around. Initially, we have to do our job and execute the coverage. When he scrambles, we’ll have to be able to plaster”.
This is so critically important not just because of Roethlisberger’s daring and abilities, but also because of the way that his skill players have adapted to his style, with Brown being only the most prominent example. JuJu Smith-Schuster was a near-instant find on extended plays, and both James Conner and tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald have made big plays for him this season in such situations.
The Broncos’ pass rushers even know that it’s not just a matter of hitting Roethlisberger. Sometimes even bringing him down isn’t enough. “You’ve just got to keep rushing”, one of their defenders said. “He likes to pump-fake; he likes to move. When you tackle him, you’ve got to tackle his arm. People try to go low on him, and he just throws the ball away or he still gets the ball out”.
That is something that we see pretty much every year, and something that has happened a time or two already in 2018. Roethlisberger could be going down, in the process of being sacked, all the while looking around him to find an eligible receiver to get the ball out to. Few quarterbacks are able to do this as well.
The bottom line is that Denver is going to do everything it can to prevent Ben from being Ben. But this is an offense that is good enough to not even need that, as long as the offensive line is protecting him and his targets are presenting themselves in the right windows at the right times. And, of course, if the ground game is clicking.