Patriots look to contain Roethlisberger

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Patriots look to contain Roethlisberger

FOXBORO The goal for dealing with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is pretty cut and dry.

Hit him hard.

A lot.

But Roethlisberger, all 6-foot-5, 241 pounds of him, is no easy take-down.

His size, strength and ability to throw on the road is challenging enough.

When you toss in the potential roughing the passer call, which seems to be happening more often these days throughout the NFL, containing a quarterback like Roethlisberger has the potential to put the most quarterback-hungry defender in a bit of a quandary.

"Sometimes it is; it's hard," said Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. "It's definitely hard, especially when you have a bigger quarterback. You have these big quarterbacks and they're not calling the play dead until they're on the ground sometimes."

Patriots defensive lineman Shaun Ellis acknowledges that the potential for roughing the passer is always present, regardless of how big a quarterback may be.

But, he added, it becomes a much larger issue when facing a quarterback like Roethlisberger.

"Ben is a big guy in the pocket," Ellis said. "He's elusive in the pocket -- not fast, but he's deceptive; he can get away from a lot of things."

While this is true, Roethlisberger has also taken his share of hits as well.

In fact, he has been sacked 20 times this season.

Only St. Louis' Sam Bradford and Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears have been sacked more than Roethlisberger this season.

Even with teams seemingly finding ways to put him on the ground, the Patriots are wise enough to know that he's still a dangerous threat, even when a defender seemingly has him wrapped up.

"You watch film and there are a lot of guys falling off him," Wilfork said. "There are a lot of guys that think they have him, but they don't have him, where at the last minute he flicks the ball. This is the only guy that you have him wrapped up and he can flick the ball 30 yards down the field."

"That's probably the worst thing about being on defense against them; when he scrambles around and start breaking tackles," said Pats cornerback Devin McCourty.

That's when Roethlisberger has the ability to inflict the most damage on a defense.

"With him, you have to get him to the ground and keep him there," McCourty said. "When you get him there, you don't worry about anything except for trying to get him down and holding on to him. He does it so easily, just swims people by with one hand. You can't worry about penalties and stuff like that. You just have to get him down."

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.