OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens face the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger for the first time in 23 months, and the concern isn't really the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. It's how the Steelers wide receivers play when Roethlisberger is running around with the ball.
"The play starts three seconds after the ball is snapped," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "This is the best group of receivers every year of getting open off of scrambles. I don't know how they practice it or what they do, or maybe it's just habit because it happens in the game all of the time."
Pees added, "But you see a lot of times when a quarterback starts scrambling and the receiver stands there like he's open. But he's not open. The defense has got a cover on him. These guys (for the Steelers) move. If you're looking back at (Roethlisberger) and this (receiver) is moving, he's open. That's what they do best."
The Ravens cornerbacks have to make sure where Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are at all times. They've combined for 69 percent of Roethlisberger's passing yards and 18 catches over 20 yards.
Roethlisberger is the fifth-highest rated quarterback when throwing outside the pocket. His 144 yards passing outside the pocket (12 yards per completion) ranks seventh in the NFL.
"The thing of it is we emphasize it obviously in the meetings and on film is that if you're watching Ben, you're watching the wrong thing," Pees said.
When Roethlisberger begins to scramble, the Ravens' zone defense changes to man-to-man so receivers can't slip free. And, when the Ravens are in man coverage, they have to stick to man coverage. When you're covering the running back, you have to keep track of the back even if it looks like he is pass blocking. If that defender comes after Roethlisberger, he will flip the ball out to the uncovered running back for a big gain. Pees said he's seen it one hundred times.
"If Ben gains 100 yards rushing, he gains 100 yards rushing," Pees said. "You can't come out of coverage against the guy. And we've got to do a good job with our pass rush so that he doesn't get out of it, too."
Giving up big plays has been the biggest blemish for the 17th-ranked defense in the NFL. The Ravens excel in some of the most critical areas of the game, ranking fourth on third downs (31.2 percent) and first in the red zone (25 percent).
If you take away the four biggest plays allowed by the Ravens, they would rank as the No. 7 defense in the NFL.
"But we're not," Pees said, "and we're never going to be until we quit giving up those plays."
When playing the Steelers, the Ravens understand the big plays often start when Roethlisberger begins to scramble.