Joe Mahoney / Associated Press

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger faces pressure from Denver's Derek Wolfe (95) and Kevin Vickerson, rear, on Sept. 9.

Roethlisberger's escape act puts Raiders on high alert

Published: Sunday, Sep. 23, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 7C
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 23, 2012 - 1:25 pm

ALAMEDA – Tommy Kelly knows the odds are good that he and his defensive mates will have a few chances today to bring down Ben Roethlisberger.

He also knows what can happen if the Steelers quarterback gives them the slip – Roethlisberger, as he has done throughout his career, standing as long as possible in a collapsing pocket, shedding would-be tacklers and improvising throws on the run.

"It's kind of a double-edged sword," said Kelly, a Raiders defensive tackle, "because he can cut your neck off at the same time, but as a pass rusher, he's going to give you an opportunity.

"We have to stay in our lanes and try to crowd him as much as possible, try to get as many hats on him as possible, because he's a big guy."

Dennis Allen, still looking for his first win as an NFL head coach, said his message this past week has been for the Raiders to match gritty physical play expected from the Steelers.

It's a style embodied by the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger, who takes his share of hits. The Steelers have been in the top 10 in sacks allowed each of the past three seasons and already have given up eight in two games this year.

But even when Roethlisberger doesn't get a throw off immediately, his scrambling ability lets him keep plays alive and allows more time for speedy receivers such as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown to get open downfield.

"The thing you've got to try to do as much as possible is try to not let him hold onto the ball and let him extend the down, whether he's inside or outside the pocket," Allen said. "So we've got to have a good plan for that."

Like the Raiders, the Steelers have struggled to run the ball in their first two games – their average of 70.5 yards is 30th in the NFL, one spot ahead of Oakland's 34.0-yard average – yet Pittsburgh has been the league's best offense on third down, converting 19 of 34 chances.

They've been even better when facing a longer distance – 9 of 14 on third downs of eight yards or more – largely because of Roethlisberger leading all quarterbacks in third-down passer rating (146.8) and averaging 10 yards an attempt.

Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said he has emphasized to players what he called "plaster rules" – sticking to the nearest potential receiver when the quarterback leaves the pocket and his targets start seeking open areas in the coverage.

The Steelers are "masters" at adjusting when Roethlisberger is on the move, Tarver said, and Roethlisberger won't always be limited to the receivers who are in the direction he's running "because he'll be over here and throw it all the way across the field over there."

Third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor has played the role of Roethlisberger in practice and – with his 6-4 frame, running ability and arm – "gives a good look," Tarver said.

The last time these teams met, in 2010, the physical nature of the game took an ugly turn in Pittsburgh's 35-3 rout. The teams combined for 21 penalties – 14 by the Steelers – for 218 yards, and Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour was ejected for throwing an open-handed punch at Roethlisberger's jaw.

That was two head coaches ago, though, and the Raiders' current regime is dealing with its own issues, including a running game that is still spinning its wheels and a defense that last week gave up 263 rushing yards in a 35-13 loss to Miami.

The Raiders are trying to avoid starting 0-3 for the first time since 2006, when they lost their first five games en route to a 2-14 season.

"Pittsburgh, their mentality is to be a bully, so you know with any bully they're going to always throw the first punch, expect you to back down," Kelly said. "But I doubt that will be the situation. I ain't worried about nobody backing down.

"(After) last week, I don't think you're going to have too much of a problem getting guys ready to play. I don't think you want to put two weeks of that on film."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara

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