Only seven quarterbacks in NFL history have been sacked more than Ben Roethlisberger, yet any opposing defender or coach will tell you he’s one of the most difficult passers to drop.
“The real problem with Ben is you can’t get him down all the time,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “You can be on him, but he’s so big and so strong. And he has this ability to be warding off defenders but his eyes and vision are down the field.”
So perhaps the Chiefs, preparing to meet Roethlisberger and the Steelers on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, will find a solution similar to last week.
In the victory over the Jets, the Chiefs did not record a sack for the first time this season but intercepted quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick an amazing six times.
A six-pick, no-sack game hadn’t occurred in the NFL since 1986, and there are reasons for this gap. First, six interceptions don’t often happen. No quarterback has thrown more in a game since 2001.
Also, a heavy interception day often occurs when the quarterback is being harassed. In that 2001 example, Ty Detmer of the Lions tossed seven picks and also was sacked three times.
The Chiefs didn’t bring down Fitzpatrick, but they applied pressure, which helped create the takeaways.
“The objective is to always affect the quarterback,” Sutton said. “And you do that in a million ways. The obvious one is to sack him, hit him. Sometimes you affect him with really tight coverage, sometimes with pocket pushing.”
The Chiefs’ first interception was the result of a push. Six charging defenders, including linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Daniel Sorensen, forced a back-foot throw from Fitzpatrick that lacked velocity and helped Marcus Peters jump the route and snare the interception.
With the big day against the Jets, the Chiefs lead the NFL with 10 takeaways and their three sacks are tied for 28th. Pittsburgh is last in the NFL with one sack.
The Chiefs came up with one sack in the opener against the Chargers, and it was timely — Dee Ford’s drop of Philip Rivers on the final series of regulation after the Chargers had picked up a first down.
There were two the next week against the Texans, by Johnson and Tamba Hali.
This from a team that recorded 47 and 46 sacks each the previous two seasons.
The Chiefs have played this season without their top sack threat, Justin Houston, who remains out because of a knee injury. And often this season the Chiefs haven’t played their base 3-4 defense. They used six defensive backs on more than half the Jets’ snaps on Sunday.
Still, the Chiefs are on the prowl for more pressure up front.
“It’s a little frustrating right now,” defensive end Jaye Howard said. “We got close but weren’t able to get it done. We want to get to the quarterback.”
Johnson, whose day against the Jets included the fourth interception return for a touchdown in his career to go along with 11 tackles, said the Chiefs have given an outstanding defensive effort but wouldn’t mind being more greedy when it comes to sacks.
“If you’re not getting sacks, he’s probably throwing the ball too early or you’re getting a lot of pressure, and due to that you’re getting interceptions,” Johnson said. “Those guys up front have been doing a good job rushing the passer. We got a lot of pressure, just not any sacks and we were disappointed with that.”
The next challenge is Roethlisberger, who has been dropped six times this season — including four times by the Eagles in last week’s 34-3 loss — but seems to fight off the sack as well as anybody in the game. That often results in an extended play, and Sutton believes nobody is better than Roethlisberger at keeping a play alive.
Affecting, or disrupting him is the key, if the sacks continue to be elusive.
“When you don’t, it is a hard day,” Sutton said. “It can be a really hard day on defense if that guy is in a great rhythm. The guys are so skilled and so accurate that if you don’t affect them and don’t challenge his throws, it’s just really difficult at times.”