Health of Roethlisberger, Steelers' pass protection issues to watch

Posted Dec. 04, 2010 @ 10:20 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

As the Steelers enter the final weeks of the regular season, several issues bear watching.

The health of QB Ben Roethlisberger tops the list. Roethlisberger aggravated a foot injury early in the Steelers' Week 12 win at Buffalo but didn't miss a snap. The Steelers said it was an existing injury "where scar tissue is present," not a new break. He threw for 246 yards in the victory vs. Buffalo and gained 18 yards and a pivotal, drive-extending first down on his only rushing attempt of the game.

Injury concerns for Roethlisberger are nothing new. He's played all 16 games just once in his Steelers career, and he has played through nagging ailments in the past.

Unfortunately, concerns about the Steelers' pass protection aren't new, either.

Roethlisberger has taken a pounding recently, as opponents have notched 12 sacks in the last three games, with the Patriots and Bills bringing him down five times apiece. The offensive line has struggled of late, as teams have had success rushing both off the edges and up the middle. Roethlisberger's daring, hold-the-ball-to-the-last-instant style of play also increases the risk of being hit.

One hit Roethlisberger took vs. the Bills — a sack credited to DT Marcus Stroud, with LB Arthur Moats in on the play, which left Roethlisberger shaken up — drew the Steelers' ire after Stroud rolled over Roethlisberger and Moats went over the top of the quarterback. The play did not draw a fine.

However, ROLB James Harrison drew a fine for a fourth time this season for a hit, with the NFL docking him $25,000 for hitting Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick with his helmet. The fine left Harrison vowing not to change his style of play. ("The way I play," Harrison said, "there's nothing wrong with it.") Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, when asked if Harrison would have to change his tackling form, noted, "Obviously he does, because the league doesn't agree with him." Meanwhile, NFL senior vice president of operations Ray Anderson disputed the notion that the Steelers were being focused on for discipline more than any other team.

Perhaps somewhat lost in the controversy about Harrison's style of play is that the 32-year-old linebacker is in the midst of one of his finer seasons, already having 10 sacks to his credit and on pace to notch triple-digit tackles for the second time in his career.