New rules means new challenge for Ravens to sack Big Ben

OWINGS MILLS, Md -- For 14 years, the Baltimore Ravens have done everything in their power to bring down Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Ravens have blitzed him. They've gang-tackled him. They've even broken his nose.

With the stricter roughing-the-passer rules, the Ravens understand sacking the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger will be even tougher when they play at the Steelers on Sunday night.

"You have a guy like Ben Roethlisberger, he doesn’t just go down easily," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You have to bring some force to get [him down]. He’s a big man, and he’s strong and does not want to go down, so you have to wrap him up and tackle him to the ground. Now, you have to do that without landing on him or a number of other certain things that you can’t do, and we just have to be conscious of that.”

This season, Roethlisberger has been sacked eight times in three games. Teams have been penalized three times for roughing the passer when playing against Roethlisberger.

The Ravens know firsthand they can't let up on Roethlisberger. He has hurt Baltimore too many times with his ability to shrug off pass-rushers and extend plays.

Over the past decade, no one has thrown more touchdowns passes outside the pocket against the Ravens than Roethlisberger (five).

"What looks like a sack oftentimes isn’t a sack with Big Ben," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "He’s just so strong. A lot of times, he can complete passes holding a guy off with the other arm. With that, the main thing is, you can’t ever really relax until you hear the whistle."

The Ravens (2-1) have brought down Roethlisberger more than any team in the NFL, recording 56 sacks. But Baltimore has only five sacks over the past three meetings, all of which have been won by Pittsburgh (1-1-1).

It's a different challenge in trying to pull down Roethlisberger, who is listed as this season’s fifth-heaviest NFL quarterback by Pro Football Reference (and just 5 pounds lighter than the leading trio of Joe Flacco, Cam Newton and Matt Schaub).

"You’ve got a guy that’s about the same size as ‘Sizz’ [Terrell Suggs]. He's tough to bring down," Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale said. "You saw that Monday night. I talk to the defense about it. We talk about extending plays. That’s what he does. That’s where he’s a top-tier quarterback in my mind, in my humble opinion, because he turns it into backyard football. If we ever had a backyard game, he’d be my first pick, because that’s where he really excels as a quarterback."

Suggs has sacked Roethlisberger more than any other player (17 total). But Suggs hasn't had a full sack against Roethlisberger since 2013.

Still, Roethlisberger joked about using the new roughing-the-passer rules to his advantage against Suggs.

"If he gets close to me, I’m asking for flag," Roethlisberger said.

Defenses typically don't fare well when blitzing Roethlisberger. Since the start of the 2017 season, Roethlisberger has thrown 11 touchdowns and four interceptions against the blitz for a 103.4 rating (fifth-best in NFL).

That puts pressure on the front four to get to Roethlisberger and get him to the ground.

"When I look back at the end of my career, I'm like, 'I probably played against one of the toughest and best quarterbacks in the NFL of my generation,'" Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon said. "It's an honor to go against him. But any hit I can get on him legally, I'm trying to do it."

The new roughing-the-passer rules haven't affected the Ravens so far. Baltimore has been penalized only once, and that came when Judon pushed Andy Dalton to the ground after the Bengals quarterback had thrown the ball.

"We’re coaching the technique as best we can," Harbaugh said. "We’re trying to follow the league’s coaching points on it as best we can. It’s obviously ... it’s hard. We’re trying to figure it out, just like everybody else is. We want to get the quarterback down."