Four Downs: Big Ben a nightmare to defend

Here’s a championship weekend edition of Four Downs, starting with a look at why Ben Roethlisberger is so difficult to defend.

1. In my mind, Roethlisberger is tougher to defend than both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Jets have beaten both, but neither plays like Roethlisberger. They don’t get out of the pocket, extend plays or break down defenses the way Roethlisberger does, which can be frustrating and irritating for a defense. Roethlisberger plays with no conscience. He will throw the ball 65-yards downfield on a third-and-19. He doesn’t care. If he doesn’t make the throw, the Steelers punt and put the defense back out on the field. It’s true that you can hit Brady and Manning early and frustrate them by getting them off of their spot. I’ve seen Roethlisberger go through every situation imaginable, and nothing phases him. He just comes back on the next play.

Really, no one in the league outside of Michael Vick has more to prove to his city, his fans or his own teammates than Roethlisberger. He let them down the first quarter of the season and put the proudest organization in the league through a bad offseason. Even though he’s won two Super Bowls, no one deep down needs this more than Roethlisberger to erase the stain he put on the organization. I think he deep down feels like he owes everyone something. No one scares you more at the end of a game. This all makes Roethlisberger very dangerous.

2. How the Jets choose to defend the Steelers could limit the effectiveness of Darrelle Revis. The Jets will likely put Antonio Cromartie on Mike Wallace, the Steelers’ most dangerous receiver, like they did in the last matchup. That means for much of the game Revis is on Hines Ward, which isn’t using him to his strengths. Ward doesn’t beat any corner in the league in man-to-man — it’s just not what he does best — making it a misuse of Revis. But if you match up Revis on Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers don’t go to them that often. So how does Revis take a receiver out of the game? If you put him on Wallace, it leaves Cromartie in situations where I’ve seen him get lost against certain formations or when things aren’t simple for him. I think the more the Steelers use bunch formations and three-by-one sets, the more it marginalizes the effectiveness of Revis, because he can’t effectively take out the Steelers’ most important receiver. Watch how Revis and Cromartie are used and the chess match with Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Ariens.

3. Look for the Packers to come out and feature a nickel defense against the Bears. I expect them to use two defensive tackles, four linebackers and five defensive backs. The nickel back will be Charles Woodson, who will line up all over the field and be largely unaccounted for. The only way to get the Packers out of the nickel will be to run the ball, which the Bears did well in Week 17. As soon as you hurt the Packers with the run, defensive coordinator Dom Capers puts three defensive linemen on the field. That takes Woodson and puts him back where he belongs on the outside, farther away from opportunities, giving you a much better chance of operating your offense. If you let Woodson play in the middle of the field, he’s capable of making every tackle and being the most disruptive player. I don’t know if there is a better tackler in the league than Woodson.

4. If Chicago wins, the one player who will have had a big game is Matt Forte. The Bears decided to put the ball in his hands and make him the workhorse after their bye in Week 9, and I think Forte is very underrated. He can play receiver, in the slot and catch screens out of the backfield. I think he can also win the one-on-one matchups with inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. Keep an eye on Forte, he’ll touch the ball a lot in this game. He had 25 touches last week and 23 against the Packers in Week 17. I see offensive coordinator Mike Martz leaning on Forte in this game like he used to with Marshall Faulk.

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