Ben: 'It Was Brutal'

Roethlisberger, Cole in 2008 (Hallowell/Getty)

After the last time he faced the Philadelphia Eagles' pass rush, Ben Roethlisberger wondered if he could continue playing the game. He hopes things have changed since then.

PITTSBURGH – Since "sacks" became an official statistic back in 1982, the Philadelphia Eagles have 1,366 of them – the most in the NFL.

The last time they played the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2008, they had nine. Ben Roethlisberger took eight of them before he was knocked out of the game by Brian Dawkins in the fourth quarter.

"It was brutal," said Roethlisberger. "I remember after the game going to (Brett) Keisel's house and saying, ‘I don't know if I can do this anymore. I don't know if I can do this.' Then we ended up winning the Super Bowl that year. But I just remember being really frustrated."

The nine sacks are the most the Steelers have given up in a single game since the Baltimore Ravens had 9 sacks on Nov. 27, 2006.

The Eagles' pass rush that day was dizzying, and it went beyond the nine sacks. A 10th was negated because Trent Cole ripped Roethlisberger down by the facemask in the second quarter. On the next snap, Roethlisberger was intercepted.

Another sack was averted when Roethlisberger grounded the ball from his end zone for a safety in the fourth quarter. He also lost a second fumble in the fourth quarter.

In fact, in every second-half Steelers possession ended with their quarterback either A.) scrambling past the line and throwing for a penalty, B.) scrambling short of the first-down marker, C.) taking a sack, D.) fumbling because of a sack, or E.) being called for a safety.

Of course, the Eagles won.

"It was the full offense that was bad," Roethlisberger said. "It was bad scheme. It was bad protections. It was bad holding the ball. It was a whole – it was everybody."

The Steelers didn't allow more than 5 sacks in a game the rest of that season, while the Eagles have continued to pillage and plunder. They've averaged 45 sacks over the last four seasons, and led the NFL with 50 last season under new coordinator Juan castillo.

Castillo altered the Eagles' approach slightly from the one that worked against the Steelers in 2008 – the late, great Jim Johnson's last season as coordinator.

"They had a lot of different exotic safety blitzes where they were dropping both d-linemen, rushing safeties off the edge, a lot of exotic stuff back then," said Steelers left tackle Max Starks. "They changed from that when they changed coordinators. It's now more based on a type of blitz packaging."

"Now they count on their front guys to get there," said Roethlisberger.

The Philadelphia coordinators may have changed, but the constant has been Cole.

The 6-3, 270-pound blindside defensive end in his eighth season trails only Reggie White and Clyde Simmons on the Eagles' all-time sacks list with 69½. Cole had 11 sacks last season and has 1½ this season.

On the other side is 6-3, 267-pound end Jason Babin, who had 18 sacks in 2011, his first season with the Eagles. He has 2½ this season. "Philadelphia was the first system that started the wide-nine technique kind of defense with that 4-3 swim," Starks said of the Eagles' defensive ends. "One of the biggest things is those guys – because shorter, quick guys who have that four-point track stance, butt high in the air, and they're crouching, it's something that has just been successful for them, especially for Trent Cole.

"You don't want put a guy his size up against an offensive tackle my size and play him in tight where I can get on him quick. It's more advantageous for him and a guy like Jason Babin, who's a very high-motor guy, to get out there. Those wide-9 techniques kind of play to their advantage."

Starks said the Eagles used the same "wide-nine" techniques back in the infamous 2008 game, a 15-6 loss in which Starks sat the bench behind starting left tackle Marvel Smith.

"But back then it was whether they dropped their ends and rushed safeties off the edge," Starks said. "Now it's more so dogs with the linebackers. There's a lot less safety involvement with their blitz packages and it's being handled by their front seven. It's going to be different from 2008."

For the sake of the quarterback, it has to be.

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