INDIANAPOLIS – Challenges in the National Football League come on a weekly basis.
The challenges come in different forms and unique sizes, and this week is no different for the Colts.
Pittsburgh visits Indianapolis this Sunday and among the factors the Colts will attempt to counteract will be a familiar foe who stands under center, or, perhaps, towers over it.
Ben Roethlisberger is in his eighth season, and his 6-5, 241-pound frame has become one of the signature presences in the NFL. Roethlisberger produced his 70th starting win last week against Seattle, and it came in the 100th time he has opened a contest.
The stalwart veteran has led the Steelers to four conference championship games in his first seven seasons, and he joins only four other quarterbacks who directed their teams to that game in three of five career-opening seasons. Roethlisberger is one of two active quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl titles.
His physical nature and outstanding accomplishments cast a shadow in every game in which he participates, and Colts personnel are aware of the challenge that awaits.
"He's big and powerful, but he's also elusive as well, certainly within the pocket," said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. "He threw a deep pass against Seattle where everyone on the perimeter thought he was down and he shrugged off another tackler and ended up completing a fairly long pass that sort of flipped the field on Seattle. Constantly all throughout his career he has been able to do that. He has such a strong arm that sometimes he can have a guy hanging on him and still be able to get it (the ball) out. When you get a hold of him, you have to make certain that you bring along some company as well because he's a big, physical guy."
Colts six-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney has 95 career sacks and has leveled many a different type of prey since 2002. Freeney holds a specific regard for Roethlisberger.
"Ben makes so many plays with his feet. When things break down for them as an offense, he does a great job, probably as good as or better than anyone I've seen," said Freeney. "I mean he's up there, as far as making plays and buying time and being devastating to a defense. We understand a little bit of what they do and what he tries to do. We have to take 11 guys or maybe a couple of extra to hone things up."
Many quarterbacks can attest that Freeney is a physical presence and a force with which to deal. Freeney puts Roethlisberger in a different category for quarterbacks.
"He's a big boy. He's strong, and he knows that," said Freeney. "That's why he does what he does. He has the ability to shake guys off, throw guys off, make unbelievable plays. When you're playing Pittsburgh, that's what you have to account for. Sometimes you don't account for certain things or certain guys. Michael Vick, you have to account for the fact that when plays break down, he's going to make plays with his feet. Ben is going to throw people off and try to continue to make plays. You can't quit, you have to keep going.
"I've gotten him a few times. It's not easy. It's not easy. I've been calling for help a couple of times."
Caldwell was asked if Roethlisberger reminded him in any way of former Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair. In seeing such a similarity, Caldwell saw another one as well.
"I think there are some similarities, but I think both have their own unique qualities," said Caldwell. "(Daunte) Culpepper was kind of the same way. All those guys were big and strong and physical and could withstand a lot of pounding in the pocket and be able to throw the ball."
Cornerback Jerraud Powers never has faced Roethlisberger in league play. He and a few other teammates have become quite acquainted with him this week on film. Powers sees a competitive force ahead.
"You see time and time again on film you think one guy has him tackled," said Powers. "All the sudden he spins out of that tackle and while he's falling to the ground, he throws a 60-yard touchdown pass. He does a tremendous job. He's a bigger quarterback, and he can see the whole field. It's not like he's a shorter quarterback who sort of looks one way. He's bigger and sees the whole field. It's going to take more than one guy to tackle him."
Powers knows in advance that he must be careful in thinking a play involving Roethlisberger may be over with when it really is not. Powers is clued in.
"Exactly. I've already seen a couple of plays on film. As a defender you kind of have a clock in your head for when a play should be over," he said. "You see times when guys get lulled to sleep, so to speak, and Big Ben sort of dodges one guy here, breaks two or three tackles there and then he's throwing a 60- or 70-yard bomb. You have to stay alert when you're on him and don't stop a play until you hear a whistle."
Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian this week pointed out what the Colts will face this week in Roethlisberger.
"In (Ben) Roethlisberger, they have a guy who's pretty darn hard to rush. To get him out of the game yesterday, the other team had to commit a penalty," said Polian. "He only went out for two plays. He's a big, strong guy and he's been wonderful since he came back from the suspension and more power to him. I am thrilled for him. He's really done a great job. On the field, he can do anything you want. He can throw it 80 yards. He can run it. He can throw it 10 yards with touch. He can do anything you want a quarterback to do and, of course, he's very comfortable in that offense."
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin has seen Roethlisberger guide his club over many NFL fields, and he regards the quarterback's competitive nature.
"He's doing great. I think the thing that distinguishes Ben from any other quarterback, at least that I've been around, is his competitive spirit. We're in a competitive game, of course, at this level, but he is uniquely competitive. I think that there's not anyone that's ever played with him that would ever question that about his game. I think that's one of the things that make him so unique."