Roethlisberger concerned with Steelers' pass protection

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line didn't keep its promise to Ben Roethlisberger. Worse still, the revamped line didn't do much to keep the Philadelphia Eagles off their quarterback, and with predictable results.

The Steelers (2-1) began on Monday a long week of preparation for their game against AFC North rival Baltimore (2-0) next Monday night, an extended period that may seem longer given their inability to calm the Eagles' incessant pass rush.

Roethlisberger, the NFL's most-sacked player with 93 sacks in 2006 and 2007, was dropped eight times -- and also drew a safety when he couldn't escape the rush -- and Byron Leftwich was sacked once during the 15-6 loss Sunday.

The nine sacks were three off the team record of 12 allowed against Dallas in 1966, but the line's performance was likely no better than that forgettable game 42 years ago.

Roethlisberger also had four plays in which he was pressured out of the pocket and gained only 1 or 2 yards -- technically not sacks, but plays a defense will take in any situation other than a short-yardage QB sneak.

"It's a problem that we have, it's obvious," coach Mike Tomlin said.

The across-the-board protection breakdown magnifies what was considered the Steelers' biggest worry going into the regular season, a line that allowed 47 sacks last season and now is without All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca.

Roethlisberger has been sacked 12 times in three games, one off the league lead, and he already has a slight shoulder separation and a sore right hand. No quarterback can take a pounding like this for a full season, yet the Steelers know they're going to keep seeing pressure until they prove they can handle it.

"I try and stand there as much as I can and just keep trying to get back up," Roethlisberger said.

That wasn't easy. During one first-half stretch of eight plays, Roethlisberger was sacked five times, fumbled and threw an interception.

Wasn't it only last week that the offensive linemen, intent on protecting their $102 million quarterback, vowed all this pressure would stop?

"I think this was about as frustrating a game as it could be," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who shared in the blame. "I think sometimes you do not want to press the issues too much this early in the season, but we really had a lot of guys that were not on the same page."

With Faneca now playing for the Jets, the Steelers have two new offensive starters in left guard Chris Kemoeatu and center Justin Hartwig.

"If we do not make changes, we are going to have problems," right tackle Willie Colon said. "If we do not get on the same page, these things are going to continue to happen."

Recent history tells them that.

The Steelers, coming off a 10-6 season in 2002, went through numerous offensive line breakdowns and injuries early in the 2003 season. They never got them solved that year, and they finished 6-10 -- their worst season in the last eight.

The protection problems spilled over into the running game in Philadelphia, with Willie Parker held to 20 yards on 13 carries following successive 100-yard games. Parker hadn't had so few yards during a full game since he had 20 on 11 carries in a 9-0 loss at Jacksonville on Sept. 18, 2006.

The Steelers have allowed only one touchdown and 21 points the past two games, including a 10-6 win at windy Cleveland on Sept. 14. They are 2-1 because they produced a single touchdown and 16 points themselves.

"It is still too early in the season right now to know where we are," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.

The Ravens have only seven sacks in two games, but they limited the Browns' Derek Anderson to 125 yards passing in 37 attempts and intercepted him three times in winning 28-10 Sunday. The Browns finished with 169 yards.

Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton, a four-time Pro Bowl player, has a groin injury and his status for Baltimore is uncertain. Tomlin does not comment on injuries until Tuesday.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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