"Who's laughing now, O-line?"
Ben Roethlisberger's comment shortly after his team's Super Bowl XLIII victory was a statement to the critics that continued to lambast Big Ben's offensive line, who was getting the brunt of the blame for Big Ben's alarming sack totals. Roethlisberger has vehemently defended his offensive lines over the years, often arguing that his sack totals are high because he often holds onto the ball too long.
Regardless of the reason, there's no debating that Big Ben has taken his share of big hits over the last 11 years. Roethlisberger has been sacked 419 times in 159 games, an average of 2.6 times a game and 38 times a season. Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times during that Super Bowl run in 2008, and he was sacked 50 times the following season. From 2006-09, he was sacked an average of 47 times a season.
Despite playing in 81 less games, Big Ben has already endured more sacks than Dan Marino, who was taken down 270 times over a span of 17 seasons. Troy Aikman, who played in just six more games than Roethlisberger heading into this season, was sacked just 259 times. Eli Manning, who came in with Big Ben in 2004, has been sacked 139 fewer times. Terry Bradshaw, who has just as many career starts as Roethlisberger, was sacked 112 fewer times, while Brett Favre, who started 298 consecutive games and suffered 525 career sacks, averaged nearly one less sack a game (1.8) than Big Ben in his career. If Roethlisberger plays as long as Favre, he's on pace to endure 783 sacks.
Ben's alarming sack totals got the attention of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney following the 2011 season. Rooney called for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers to change their offensive philosophy in favor of quicker, short-range passing plays and a steadier diet of running plays. That's that main reason why Todd Haley was brought in to replace the popular Bruce Arians heading into the 2012 season.
While it took time to adjust to Haley's offense, not only did it produce record-setting numbers from Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le'Veon Bell last season, Big Ben has been sacked an average of 12 fewer times a season since Haley assumed the role of offensive coordinator. It's no coincidence that Big Ben has enjoyed three of his more successful seasons statistically during that span, while an improved offensive line consisting of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert has played a vital role in that success as well.
A decade ago, Steelers fans watched Big Ben suffer shots like the hit where Bart Scott leveled Big Ben and everyone wondered how long Roethlisberger could endure such hits. There were even thoughts that the alarming hits and sack totals would end Big Ben's career prematurely. But here is, after 11 seasons, playing at the highest level of his career. It's a testament to Roethlisberger, who has continued to battle through big hits to play at a near peerless level while not shouldering blame at teammates for the hits he endures. That's one of the reasons why Roethlisberger is so revered amongst his teammates, and that's a big reason why the Steelers have a chance to win it all in 2015. Despite whatever hits he endures, Big Ben always battles back, and hopefully, that's something that rubs off on Roethlisberger's younger teammates in 2015 and beyond.