|The Steelers' o-line couldn't slow up Tuck during a 2010 preseason game. (US Presswire)|
When the Steelers face the Giants in MetLife Stadium Sunday, New York defensive end Justin Tuck hopes that the officials are prepared to make some holding calls. Because to hear him tell it, Pittsburgh's offensive line, which has suddenly become very good at protecting Ben Roethlisberger after years of futility, has also become very good at the art of the grab.
"I hope we get some holding calls because they have gotten away with murder," Tuck told ESPN's Rachel Nichols. "They've done a very good job protecting Ben -- they don't hold on every play. But we've seen a whole lot of it."
Tuck could be onto something. But there's more to Big Ben's ability to stay upright beyond cheating. For starters, new offensive coordinator Todd Haley has Roethlisberger getting rid of the ball quickly, usually with a lot of slip screens and three- or five-step drops. It has meant fewer big plays down the field but sacks have decreased as a result.
Through seven games, Roethlisberger has been sacked 13 times. That puts him on pace for for 30 for the season. By comparison, he was sacked 40 times in 15 games last season, 32 times in 12 games in 2010, and 50 times in 15 games in 2009. For his career, Big Ben's gone down 327 times in 121 games. That's a rate of 2.7 times per game. This season, it's 1.9.
A couple weeks ago, Roethlisberger referred to Haley's offense as "dink and dunk" but later clarified that he didn't mean that pejoratively. “Coach Haley and I had a laugh about (the comments)," Big Ben told the USA Today. " To dink and dunk, that's moving the chains, and it will open up big plays. The Patriots dink and dunk, too."
Third-year wideout Emmanuel Sanders is unconcerned with labels but likes the results in recent weeks. The Steelers won back-to-back games for the first time all season.
''We have an offense that's working right now, that's all that matters,'' he said via the Associated Press. ''No matter how we put up points, that's what matters at the end of the day. It doesn't matter what the offense is called.''
Tuck's criticism's aside, it seems that Haley's streamlined playbook has made the offensive line's job easier.
''We have to hold up in protection enough to have (Roethlisberger) make the reads, make the throws,'' said left tackle Max Starks. ''If it's two, five, seven (seconds), it doesn't really matter for us because our assignments are so much clearer than it was in the past where it kind of changed every single week. …
'We have a lot wider array (of plays) in the playbook where we're so balanced teams don't know which way to take us,'' Starks said. ''We can exploit things and keeps defenses more honest. Before they could pin their ears back and say, `they're in sub, they're in drop back, they're going to pass the ball.' They can't do that now.''
Tuck would say that all that holding has something to do with it. And ESPN.com blogger Jamison Hensley points out that the seven linemen who have started for the Steelers this season have been flagged for holding just five times. Left guard Willie Colon has accounted for four of those flags.
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