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Titans Want to Contain, Pressure Steelers QB

Posted Sep 5, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey correctly remembered his first trip to Pittsburgh included a sack of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.

The problem for Tennessee, however, is it was the only one on the day. Roethlisberger was managing an injury and used quick dropback passes to get rid of the football faster than he usually does. He threw five TD passes in the first half of Pittsburgh’s 38-17 win.

Tennessee will open the season at noon (CT) Sunday at Pittsburgh. It will be the sixth straight year the former AFC Central rivals have met.

Titans defenders believe Roethlisberger will hold onto the ball longer in the upcoming contest and think it will be important to contain Roethlisberger in the pocket while applying pressure up front and holding steady on the back end for extended periods of time.

Roethlisberger has played in four of the past five meetings, and Tennessee has recorded 11 sacks of him in those four games: five in 2008, four in 2009, one in 2011 and one by Derrick Morgan in 2012. Defensive tackles have accounted for seven of those sacks, meaning when the edge has been contained it’s been easier to reach Roethlisberger.

Defensive players must do more than just get in his area, however, because of his ability to shed tackles.

“He’s a really good football player. We know that and then he’s elusive,” Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said. “You can be free and can’t get him down and you’ve got to be under control when you’re rushing. You can’t be out of control and think you’re going to get him down because he’ll throw you off with one arm and then he’s going to look downfield because he’s probably the best at looking downfield when guys are rushing and still finding targets.”

Gray said the Titans have watched a “scramble tape” that he described as “amazing” because of the grasps the 10-year NFL veteran has eluded and bought time to heave a long pass.

Linebacker Moise Fokou said Roethlisberger is “probably one of the best in the league at extending a play” from the typical length of three or four seconds to seven or eight seconds.

“Strong legs, very big arm, when he gets out of the pocket he’s trying to make a play by looking down the field,” Fokou said. “You’ve kind of got to swarm.”

Derrick Morgan sacked Ben Roethlisberger last season against the Steelers. Click here for a slideshow from that game.

Although speedy receiver Mike Wallace jetted from Pittsburgh to Miami during free agency, Gray said Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are threats for deep plays extended by Roethlisberger. Gray said cornerbacks and safeties likely will need to cover receivers for longer periods of time.

“They’ve got some good receivers so you’ve got to make sure you keep your eyes on your work and then let the d-line and linebackers who are blitzing or going to the quarterback do their job,” Gray said. “You can’t think it’s going to be an on-time sack. It doesn’t happen. When you time something up, and all of a sudden there’s seven seconds, receivers are down the field and he can make those plays. The thing you can’t get frustrated with is that he is running around. Just make sure you’re not trying to say I came up with three or four seconds and he should have been down. It doesn’t work with Ben.”

Starting cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner said it will be important for them to stay in coverage the whole time.

“You’ve got to have good eyes because, Ben, you might think he’s sacked, and all of a sudden the receivers are taking off downfield and they’ve got speed so you’ve got to stay on your man the whole time,’ Verner said.

Safety Michael Griffin agreed that it’s important for the secondary to not assume a sack is happening based on appearance.

“You may think he’s going down, but he’s a strong guy and it takes two people maybe to bring him down, so you’ve got to stay in coverage if you’re playing the back half, and the defensive line has to continue to rally to him and try to get him down,” Griffin said. “You’ve got to rush with proper leverage. If you go too high, as a d-end, he’ll go right underneath you, and if you go too low, he’ll just run on the outside of you. We’ve just got to stay poised and you can’t get frustrated.”

Although the sack totals have been the same in each of the past two meetings, Tennessee was able to apply pressure more often last season, recording three quarterback hits and forcing Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball before he wanted to on a third-and-7 play with less than a minute remaining. The resulting incompletion forced a 54-yard field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham that was short and was a precursor to Tennessee’s game-winning drive capped by Rob Bironas’ 40-yard field goal as time expired.

Casey said he thinks the Titans are looking forward to the challenge.

“You’ve got to do all kinds of things to get that guy down,” Casey said. “He’s a big body and you’ve got to have things up your sleeves to get the job done. I’m sure we’re prepared to get that done.”

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