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Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Minnesota Vikings versus Big Ben

Ask your average British person to describe "Big Ben" and the picture they'll paint you is one of a large clock tower on the bank of the river Thames. Well this weekend the British public will be exposed to a completely different Big Ben. A 6 foot 5, 240lb quarterback who had cornered the market on frustrating pass rushers long before Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and the Class of 2012 joined the NFL.

We've all seen the plays that have been common place since Ben Roethlisberger came to Pittsburgh in 2004, the big #7 moving around the pocket, staying up despite taking hit after hit and then some how getting the ball down field to his receivers when he's got pass rushers hanging off him.

Sure, Ben's style of play has lead to him taking some unnecessary hits which have resulted in missing games through injury, but he's also lead the Steelers to 3 Super Bowls since 2004, a feat matched only by Tom Brady.

So how do the Vikings feel about facing off against this Big Ben? Well we found out today....

"Ben's sort of a unique individual when you talk about NFL quarterbacks. There's a lot of guys who have that ability to escape but he's probably the best .... He's a guy that can make a lot of plays after things start to break down."

Those are the words of Minnesota's star linebacker Chad Greenway from today's press conference. From a guy who plays with a fairly shifty quarterback, and in a league featuring athletic freaks like Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III that is high praise indeed. And largely correct. The sheer size of Roethlisberger leads a lot of players to underestimate his speed and agility in the pocket. He also has that intangible "pocket presence" that so many players lack. He can feel pressure without seeing it, knows where the space is without lowing his eyes. It makes him incredibly hard to get to, let alone bring down. The man tasked with that job on Sunday, All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, chipped in his two pence:

Jared Allen chats with media after
Wednesday's practice
"He's one of the guys I've never sacked so I've got to get  him on the ground ... He's elusive, he might not have the speed but his pocket presence is second to none. He can shake a tackle, you're not going to arm tackle him, you're not going to grab him by his jersey, you need to get on his back and get him on the ground."

For Jared Allen to have never sacked you you've either had incredible left tackle play, or are one hard guy to bring down. Take it from us that this is definitely not a case of the former.

But it's not like Roethlisberger is impossible to bring down. In his 130 games in the NFL he's been sacked 354 times, a rate of 2.7 a game. His sack % (Times sacked / (passes attempted + times sacked) x 100) sits at 8.37%, 34th out of the 37 active, qualified QB's. Those behind him? Michael Vick, his back-up Charlie Batch and poor old David Carr.

Allen explained to us why that can happen even with an elusive guy:

"It's kind of a double-edged sword. He gives you more rush opportunities as far as second moves and extending plays but it makes it harder on the back end. He's not a guy that's going to break out of the pocket and run but he's a guy that's really shifty in the pocket."

Head coach Leslie Frazier echoed his veteran defensive ends words, adding:

"It creates a lot of stress on your defensive backs (where Minnesota are already dangerously thin), it tires your defensive line as well with all that moving around ... He's one of the top QB's in our league because he's able to extend plays and make plays down the field."

So far this season Minnesota have done a great job taking the ball away, and Roethlisberger has had that double-edged nature about him so far this season, giving his opposition plenty of opportunity to take it away by throwing 4 interceptions and fumbling 4 times in 3 games. Minnesota are going need to continue that trend because if they can't they may be waiting two more weeks for that maiden win.

So other than frustrate pass rushers, what does Ben's ability to extend plays do? Well it gives his receivers a chance to uncover. The Steelers don't have the biggest, most physical receivers, but they've got guys with the speed and moves to be absolutely deadly when they've got the ball in space. Antonio Brown is as effective on a quick screen as he is making circus catches in the end zone or a scramble drill, and Minnesota are going to have to stick to him and Emmanuel Sanders like glue to avoid big plays.

Even when Ben Roethlisberger isn't extending plays he can be a nightmare for defensive backs, and particularly safeties. When given time Roethlisberger is able to manipulate coverages like few else. He moves his head around, scanning the whole field and making it tough for players to get a read on where he might go with the ball, and his pump fakes are the best in the league. Thanks to his enormous and strong hands Big Ben can get much further through his throwing motion before pulling the ball down again, and doesn't need to bring his left hand up to stabilize the ball. He's used this to great effect throughout his career to create windows down the field and fool defensive backs. Harrison Smith told us what he has to do to avoid falling victim to these tricks, like Bears safety Chris Conte did last week:

" You've got to stay true to your job, trust the guys around you ... Don't try to make plays you're not supposted to make, just really focus on your responsibilities and get that taken care of, or else he'll get you to bite on something and throw it over your head."

All week the focus around the Minnesota Vikings team has been getting that first win on the board, and the key to that is stopping Ben Roethlisberger, especially given the troubles the Steelers have been having with their run game. These guys know that, and will have #7 squarely in their sights come sunday evening.

- Toby Durant (@TDOnSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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