Ben's Mind Matching His Athleticism

Ben Roethlisberger (Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

Ben Roethlisberger has kept his youthful athleticism and is adding a beautiful mind. He talks here about the jumping-off point to a better second half of this season.

PITTSBURGH -- Back in 2008, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked a personal-high 26 times in the first half of the season, and in 2009 he was sacked a personal-high 50 times all season.

The first record fell this season, and the second looked to be in peril until the Steelers changed their offensive philosophy.

The full-season record could still be matched, but only if the Cleveland Browns sack Roethlisberger nine times Sunday in the regular-season finale at Heinz Field.

That's doubtful, because after being sacked 31 times in the first half of this season, Roethlisberger has been sacked only 10 times in the last seven games, six times in the last six games.

It's a product of Roethlisberger's good health, the play of his offensive line, and his radically improved ability to get rid of the ball more quickly.

The latter factor has been boosted by the increased use of the no-huddle approach, which is partly a credit to offensive coordinator Todd Haley and partly a credit to Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams.

"The Detroit game we were almost all no-huddle," Roethlisberger said of the change in philisophical approach. "That game, or maybe the second half of the game before that, Buffalo. That part of Buffalo we did a lot of no-huddle because we wanted to slow down Mario off the edge.

"Those couple games right there were probably the point where we all kind of said, 'OK, this is when we're at our best.'"

And the numbers support that -- in a big way.

In addition to the 31 sacks, Roethlisberger quarterbacked the Steelers to a 2-6 record, a personal W-L record that had been topped -- in a negative way -- only one other time: the first half of the 2006 season when Roethlisgberger's Steelers went 1-6 after he missed the opener.

Roethlisberger also recorded a passer rating of 88.5 the first half of this season, his worst first half since 2008 (79.6).

But then came Williams, the Bills, and the second half of this season. The no-huddle was broadened and the numbers have improved dramatically: 10 sacks, 5-2 record, 100.2 passer rating, and he still has the Browns, his personal whipping boys, yet to play.

It's the best passer rating Roethlisberger has posted in the second half of any season.

"I've got to give credit to the coaches and the other quarterbacks, because so much is done in the no-huddle on the sideline," Roethlisberger said. "We're talking about so many things. The players are coming up and talking to me about plays that they like, whether it's Heath (Miller), Jerricho (Cotchery), guys on the interior part of it."

Two weeks ago, Cotchery, the 31-year-old sage of the receiving corps, said that Roethlisberger's ability to get rid of the ball more quickly and more consistently than ever is a result of calling his own plays at the line ad knowing where he's going with the ball.

"Yeah, I would agree with that," Roethlisberger said. "When I'm calling the plays, I can call it off what the defense is giving us, so it's kind of like that chess match with coordinators. When Coach Haley calls a play, he doesn't know what the defense is going to give us. ... So when I'm out there I can actually see what the defense is giving us and I can change the play or call a play that I think is best to work against that specific defense.

"In that sense, yes, usually the ball will come out quicker because I've kind of pre-determined where I'm going to go with the ball."

Roethlisberger was asked if he considers himself "a more cerebral player" these days.

"I'd like to think so," he said. "There are still times that I make mistakes calling the play. I call the wrong play or I guess wrong and they guess right and it doesn't look so good. I like to think that I get us in the best play possible most of the time. "

He was then asked if he's "a thinking man's veteran quarterback" in a league that gets younger, throws harder, and runs faster each year.

"Hey, I can still run. Did you see that touchdown?" Roethlisberger asked of his 13-yard dash in Green Bay. "No one touched me. That being said, I still think the cerebral part is going to continue to grow. I always want to be a smart player. Hopefully I don't lose my physical skills as well."

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