Roethlisberger is blitzed, bothered and battered by Philadelphia's hungry defense
Monday, September 22, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- Ben Roethlisberger turned slowly around from his locker, his right hand wrapped with a white bandage but otherwise surprisingly unbloodied, and asked for a little room to operate.
The gaggle of reporters complied. Too bad the Philadelphia Eagles did not.
Roethlisberger came under as heavy a pass rush as he has experienced in five NFL seasons as the rampaging Eagles defense sacked him eight times, injured his right hand and sent the Steelers home with their first loss of the season, 15-6.
"We came out here and got the dog kicked out of us," offensive tackle Willie Colon said.
That Roethlisberger was able to walk under his own power out of this city was a small victory in itself. X-rays showed no broken bones although his hand, which was stepped on, will be examined further today. Those eight sacks easily could have been a dozen if it weren't for penalties and a yard gain on several plays that negated more. Relief quarterback Byron Leftwich was sacked once to make it nine officially.
Philadelphia's pressure defense was the overwhelming difference in a close game. It was more than sacks. That pressure helped create two lost fumbles by Roethlisberger, an interception, a safety and a meager 33 yards rushing, including just 20 by the NFL's third-leading rusher entering the weekend, Willie Parker.
"They took it to us tonight, no doubt," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They got after us. That's the story of this football game. They applied pressure on our quarterback, particularly on third downs, made splash plays."
Tomlin said as the game wore on and the Steelers (2-1) could not solve the problem, the Eagles (2-1) picked up steam.
"There was blood in the water at that point," he said as the Steelers' second-half adjustments dissolved like papier-māche in a rainstorm. "They pinned their ears back."
"I want to thank our defense," Roethlisberger said. "They gave us many chances to win that game. They were the reason we were able to stay close and have an opportunity to win the game."
Roethlisberger completed just 13 of 25 passes for 131 yards and threw his first interception of the season. Parker ran 13 times for 20 yards. The Eagles threw a lot with Donovan McNabb completing 24 of 35 passes but just for 196 yards. The game's only touchdown came on a 20-yard toss to Correll Buckhalter.
Steelers Troy Polamalu and Bryant McFadden each had interceptions and McFadden recovered a Tony Hunt fumble. Tomlin was in no mood for moral victories on one side of the ball.
"I'm not worried about wasting efforts," he said of his defense.
At one point in the first half, the Eagles sacked Roethlisberger five times on seven plays and he lost a fumble on one of them. On the eighth play, Asante Samuel intercepted Roethlisberger's deep pass.
That's eight offensive plays, five sacks, two turnovers.
"We got our butt kicked, plain and simple," Colon said. "No other way to put it. Obviously, we didn't do the job we wanted to come out here and do. We got lit up."
The Eagles moved readily on their opening drive to a first down at the Steelers' 25 when linebacker James Farrior stripped the ball from Hill after a short reception. McFadden recovered at the Steelers' 20.
That led to the first scoring drive of the game, a 12-play effort in which Roethlisberger completed 5 of 7 passes and Reed kicked a 37-yard field goal. It was the only score of the first quarter and it was their only competent drive of the game until the end.
The Eagles claimed a 7-3 lead on a 13-play drive that ended when Buckhalter caught a short pass from McNabb, beat linebacker James Harrison around the left corner and leaped over cornerback Ike Taylor from the 3 and into the end zone to complete a 20-yard touchdown reception.
The Eagles blitzed Roethlisberger hard and often and it paid off in the second quarter when they sacked him three times in five plays, two of them by end Juqua Parker. Roethlisberger fumbled on the last one and Eagles tackle Brodrick Bunkley recovered at the Steelers' 45.
That fumble led to a David Akers' 31-yard field goal and a 10-3 Eagles lead with 2:36 left in the second quarter.
Reed made the longest field goal of his career from 53 yards after McFadden's interception near midfield. That left the Eagles with a 10-6 halftime lead.
Nothing happened to change that until the Eagles recorded a safety in the fourth quarter when, under pressure and going down in his end zone, Roethlisberger tried to flip a pass to Mewelde Moore and was penalized for intentional grounding. Because the penalty occurred in the end zone, it was ruled a safety and upped Philadelphia's lead to 12-6 with eight minutes left.
A leaping sack of Roethlisberger on the next series by safety Brian Dawkins knocked the ball out of his hands. Dawkins recovered and Akers eventually kicked another 31-yard field goal for a 15-6 lead.
Leftwich came on and, against no blitz, guided the Steelers to the Eagles' 22 where the drive ended on fourth down.
The problem for the Steelers now is not so much what the Eagles did, but what every other defense will try to do, starting with Baltimore Monday night.
"It has to be correctable," Colon said. "Any team that watches this tape right now is going to understand we're suffering with the blitz coming at us and if we don't get it done, they're going to blitz the hell out of us."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email].
First published on September 22, 2008 at 12:00 am