(Reuters) – Ben Roethlisberger has played a key role in getting the Pittsburgh Steelers one win away from a Super Bowl berth but the quarterback is quick to deflect the praise toward an offensive line that wants to “pound people.”
Roethlisberger was sacked a career-low 17 times during the regular season and that has the Steelers signal caller feeling good going into Sunday’s AFC Championship clash in Foxborough against a New England Patriots team that are 5-1/2 point favourites.
“I feel good,” Roethlisberger said in a report on the team’s website. “I think it’s because of how well the line has played.
“By far the fewest sacks I have ever taken in a year. I think we ended up number two in the league in least amount of sacks. That just speaks for those guys and their determination, how good they want to be and how great they really are.”
According to Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl winner looking to return to the championship game for the first time in eight years, much of the credit for the Steelers success goes to the offensive line.
While not only protecting Roethlisberger, whose dealt with concussions before, the offensive line are playing at an elite level that has opened the door to a running game headed by the nearly unstoppable Le’Veon Bell.
Roethlisberger said the line of Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva are always requesting more running plays.
“There have been times this year that they’re asking for, let’s go do this, and I’ll go tell coach (Todd) Haley they want this, the line wants this, let’s do it. A lot of times it’s run plays,” said Roethlisberger.
“They want to pound people and get up there and maul people. When they ask for something, we strongly consider it.”
While Pittsburgh’s line includes two Pro Bowl selections in Pouncey and DeCastro, others have flown largely under the radar, including a banged-up Gilbert who has played through a slew of bumps and bruises.
“It’s almost like if one of them is not out there, they are the outcast for the week,” said Roethlisberger. “He is one piece of that cog, that puzzle that is up front that is special. That whole group is the reason we have the success that we do.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Steve Keating)