Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said when he reviewed the film of the Packers’ 37-36 loss last season to the Steelers in Week 15 at Heinz Field, there were five other “legitimate” chances to sack Roethlisberger.
“It was just basically him being Ben, where we missed him or we hit him and came off of him,” Capers said. “And a couple of the times, he launched a ball up the field for big plays against us. We gave up by far the most big plays there than we did of any game last season.
“It's like trying to tackle a lineman back there. He's like a fullback back there playing quarterback. I think you've got to try to hit him between the knees and the chest. If you get up high on him, you probably aren't going to get him down.”
It’s not as if Roethlisberger doesn’t get sacked. Over the past two seasons, he has been brought down 82 times, the second most in the league over that span behind only Chicago’s Jay Cutler (87), and that includes Roethlisberger missing the first four games this season due to a suspension.
The Packers tied for No. 2 in the league with 47 sacks this season, the most by a Green Bay defense since 2001, and have registered an NFL-high 10 sacks in the playoffs. Having faced an elusive Michael Vick at Philadelphia earlier this postseason, the Packers have some experience with challenging targets in the pocket, but the 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger poses problems in a different way.
“He's a good quarterback, and he breaks more tackles than any running back I've seen,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “It's tough to bring him down once you get past the offensive line. It's tough to get him down.
“Obviously not many people have the answer to how you get him down. That's why he's been to, what, three Super Bowls the last six years. It's tough. He's an elite quarterback. And it's no easy answers. When you get your opportunity, you have to try to tackle him, but that's not easy.”
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins said the closest comparison he could make as far as bringing down Roethlisberger was Redskins veteran signal-caller Donovan McNabb, whom the Packers faced at Washington in Week 5.
“You can’t just try to take one shot at him,” Jenkins said. “You can’t come in out of control and try to just take a shot at him or lunge at him because if he shakes it off, you take yourself out of it. You just have to learn to be a little more under control and not be so anxious once you get back there and see him.
“Heck, I had the same problem with McNabb earlier this year. Granted I had a club on my (broken) hand, but it’s the same concept. You’ve got to come in under control and make sure you get a good grasp on him and bring him down.”
Jenkins knows firsthand the kind of problems Roethlisberger presents. With the Packers leading 36-30 late in last season’s matchup, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the Green Bay 19, converting a fourth-and-7 with a 32-yard completion to wide receiver Santonio Holmes and picking up a third-and-15 with a 20-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller.
The Steelers used their final timeout to stop the clock after the Miller completion, and faced a second-and-10 at the 19 with just 13 seconds left. Jenkins made a nifty inside move on left tackle Max Starks to come up the middle for a clear shot at Roethlisberger. Jenkins grabbed him around the waist, but the quarterback was able to spin away from the tackle attempt to his left and throw the ball out of the end zone with three seconds remaining.
Avoiding what could have been a game-ending sack, Roethlisberger took advantage of the opportunity as he connected with wide receiver Mike Wallace for a 19-yard touchdown pass as time expired for the 37-36 victory.
“Ben is just one of those guys that knows how to get it done,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “He's not going to always kill you with numbers and those sorts of things. But when their team needs a play, he being their guy, he can get it done.
“He makes a lot of guys look bad out there on the field during the course of the games with making guys miss who have free rushes, free shots at him. Or if they get to him, breaking tackles, and still being able to keep a play alive. And he's done that his whole career.”
Roethlisberger connected on eight passes of 25-plus yards against the Packers last season, a career high, on his way to a career best 503-yard game. He completed 29-of-46 passes (63.0 percent) for three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 121.9 passer rating.
Even though the Packers did a good job of getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger throughout the game, his ability to shake off tacklers to buy time for receivers down the field led to some of those big gains.
“I think he is a special player, the way he extends plays,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “The length of the play with Ben is always longer. The way their passing game is designed, his ability to step up in the rush and do the things he does.
“He can make any throw on the field, evident in our game last year and another thing that you learn when you see players live. He has the arm to step up, roll to his right, and still make the 60-plus throw. That’s definitely one of our objectives is to make sure when we have the opportunity to get him on the ground.”
The secondary will certainly have to do its part in coverage, but the Packers know that keeping Roethlisberger in the pocket and finishing when they have the chance to sack him will make that job a whole lot easier.
“Obviously with quarterbacks like that you just need to stay alive in your pass rush,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who sacked Roethlisberger twice in the ’09 meeting. “I think last year, obviously last year was last year, but we had some success against him rushing the passer as well as I'd like to think stopping the run (65 yards on 19 carries).
“But obviously we gave up way too much in the passing game, so if there's anything to learn from last year's loss, it’s that. So yeah, we've got to stay alive, really get after him, and kind of collapse the pocket on him, and force him to not be able to complete those passes where he moves around and breaks tackles.”
Additional coverage - Jan. 29