CINCINNATI -- When facing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the beginning of a game week can often be the hardest for a defensive coordinator.
Before the specifics of the task at hand actually get sorted out, just one look at film on the big-bodied signal-caller's elusiveness, smarts, creativity and tackle-shedding ability can make those scheming against him shudder. Maybe the best way to get mentally prepared for drawing up a game plan against Roethlisberger is to pretend he is a distance runner with a strong arm who happens to be trapped in a defensive end's body.
While getting ready for their game Monday night against the Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals spoke often last week about Roethlisberger's ability to keep plays alive with his feet and his physical strength. Bengals defenders can forget setting an internal clock on each play. There is no such thing as a traditional three- or five-step drop with Roethlisberger. It's drop back, buy time in the pocket, get out of the pocket if it collapses, spin off a defender going for a sack, sidestep another, tiptoe further out of the pocket and then find an open receiver downfield.
A play that may take five seconds to complete under most quarterbacks could last twice that for the enduring Roethlisberger.
"He's a very tough guy to bring down," Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson said. "He does a great job of extending plays. We are going to have to be on our A-game."
For linemen like Johnson, their A-game means fighting and clawing past blockers until Roethlisberger attempts a pass or officials blow the play dead. It also means there can't be one or two linemen going after him. If the Bengals are going to bounce back from their sackless performance last week at Chicago, they need multiple defenders around Roethlisberger to bring him down.
"You've got to make sure you rally," defensive tackle Geno Atkins said. "If not, you can be on him and he can still get the ball off. You've got to make sure you grab his arm. He's one of the strongest quarterbacks in the league."
To linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the best approach Cincinnati's front seven can make is to play contain on the outer edges. To do that, the Bengals still need to get as much interior pressure as they can so that the pocket routinely collapses around Roethlisberger, but they also can't let him get too far outside it when it does.
If Roethlisberger routinely gets outside of the containment zone, first-down completions will be the norm for the Steelers. The Bengals can't let that happen.
"It's about contain," Burfict said. "We have great D-linemen that can do that, especially with Geno. We have guys that can catch him."
But most defenses couldn't last year.
Among quarterbacks who had four to six seconds before attempting a pass, Roethlisberger ranked second in the league in QBR in 2012. His 65.0 was bettered only by Washington's Robert Griffin III (69.8). Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick ranked third with a 58.6 QBR.
It's safe to say the 2012 versions of Griffin and Vick were truer dual-threat quarterbacks than last year's Roethlisberger. Their games were predicated on getting out of the pocket anyway on the off chance they might run for big yards. Roethlisberger doesn't have the same run-first instinct, nor quite the same ability. He's simply looking for more time to find his most open receiver.
"When you watch film, you're like, 'Damn, that lasted 10 seconds,'" Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said about typical Roethlisberger plays. "In the game, you just have to make sure you stay on your man and wait until the whistles blow."
Roethlisberger led all quarterbacks in touchdowns and passer rating last season when he had four to six seconds to attempt a pass.
"We're understanding that he's a guy that can definitely make plays -- nonconventional plays where he pump-fakes to get out of the pocket, and his receivers are great about where they have to scramble to, and he's great at finding them," cornerback Terence Newman said. "In the secondary, we know we have to extend plays and cover longer than we normally have to. We just have to pin our ears back and let our D-linemen go up there and try to tackle the big fella."