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Steelers pass test with ease

Roethlisberger schools defense

By Duane Rankin
Globe Correspondent / October 31, 2011

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PITTSBURGH - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn’t Tom Brady, but he looked like him yesterday.

Running the no-huddle and routinely hitting multiple receivers, Roethlisberger picked apart the NFL’s worst pass defense in a 25-17 win over the Patriots at Heinz Field.

“We can be as good as we want to be,’’ Roethlisberger said. “When we don’t kill ourselves and stop ourselves, we can be pretty dangerous.’’

The Patriots are sure to remain in the pass-defense cellar after Roethlisberger went 36 of 50 for 365 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

“Even though they’re winning ballgames and doing really well, they still have some holes in their defense,’’ said Steelers receiver Mike Wallace (seven catches, 70 yards). “We were trying to exploit them.’’

Roethlisberger has posted consecutive 300-yard passing games for only the second time in his career, and first since 2006.

With the Patriots limiting deep throws, Roethlisberger effectively located receivers (nine in all) underneath.

“We came in planning to take some [deep] shots, too,’’ Roethlisberger said. “You would have thought the game plan was to dink and dunk, but that is what they gave us.’’

Roethlisberger led an offense that even without injured receiver Hines Ward (ankle) amassed 427 yards, went 10 of 16 on third-down conversions, and committed just one turnover.

“It’s been Tom Brady vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and they forgot about our offense,’’ said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley. “I think our offense kind of took that a little personal.’’

In the first half, Roethlisberger set career highs for a half in attempts and completions, going 23 of 32 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, as the Steelers led, 17-10.

“We came in with the game plan to throw the ball,’’ Roethlisberger said. “I felt like we did a good job of that. The line gave me good time.’’

Roethlisberger’s accuracy on third down was a major reason Pittsburgh had the ball for 21 minutes, 13 seconds in the first half.

“We tried to control [the ball] with the pass a little bit,’’ Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We were able to do that.’’

The Steelers were 6 of 7 on third downs in the first half.

“There were some that you probably shouldn’t convert that we were able to convert and keep drives alive,’’ tight end Heath Miller (seven catches, 85 yards) said.

With Roethlisberger controlling the ball, the Steelers didn’t have to worry about defending Brady, who entered the game 6-1 against them.

“Brady can’t score if he’s not in the game,’’ Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. “Ha-ha.’’

Pittsburgh possessed the ball for all but 1:24 of the first quarter. Roethlisberger started out by hitting Miller, who caught three straight passes for 40 yards. He finished with four catches for 55 yards on Pittsburgh’s opening possession, which was capped by Mewelde Moore’s 5-yard touchdown reception.

“We had mismatches with their linebackers and Heath because we got into a big-package personnel, so obviously you’re not going to pair a nickel back on him,’’ said left tackle Max Starks.

Roethlisberger has taken his share of hits despite having the ability to escape pressure. Yesterday, although he was sacked five times, he didn’t have to move around nearly as much.

“Boy, they did a nice job,’’ Tomlin said of his offensive line. “We had some mixing and matching in that area.’’

If the Steelers can keep protecting Roethlisberger, they feel confident in executing the same pass-heavy strategy against any team.

“Why not, if the line gives me time to get the ball off, and I make accurate throws?’’ Roethlisberger said.

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