Big Ben has been large night­mare for Guen­ther

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Matt Sch­nei­d­man mschnei­d­[email protected] ba­yare­anews­group.com

ALAMEDA » For four years Paul Guen­ther called plays in­tended to stop Ben Roeth­lis­berger.

As Ben­gals de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor from 2014-17, Guen­ther faced a Roeth­lis­berger-led Steel­ers team nine times. Roeth­lis­berger won eight, plas­ter­ing 25.6 points per game on Guen­ther’s de­fenses.

Big Ben, who’s ac­tu­ally 0-3 in his ca­reer at the Oak­land Coli­seum, leads the NFL with 3,945 pass­ing yards through 13 weeks. Steel­ers start­ing run­ning back James Con­ner won’t play Sun­day in Oak­land, but Roeth­lis­berger still has the league’s best wide re­ceiver at his dis­posal in An­to­nio Brown. And Guen­ther, who’s seen the best of Roeth­lis­berger the last four sea­sons, thinks the 15th-year sig­nal- caller is even bet­ter at 36 years old.

“It’s al­ways fun to com­pete against him. He’s a heck of a player. I’ve had a lot of bat­tles against him,” Guen­ther said.

“It’s a fun game to go against him be­cause he plays at such a high level. He can get them in and out of plays and make un­scripted plays. I thought I wouldn’t see him for a while, but I guess I’ll see him sooner than I thought.”

De­spite his over­whelm­ing dom­i­nance of Guen­ther, Roeth­lis­berger has thrown as many in­ter­cep­tions (six) as touch­downs in his three losses in Oak­land. Some­thing has to give, when the AFC North-lead­ing Steel­ers visit the bot­tom- dwelling Raiders Sun­day, in a game the Steel­ers need to win for play­off hopes as much as the Raiders might be bet­ter off los­ing for draft po­si­tion.

Even at 6- foot- 5 and 240 pounds,

Roeth­lis­berger has es­tab­lished him­self as one of the best quar­ter­back cre­ators in NFL his­tory. Like the Raiders faced with Chiefs quar­ter­back Patrick Ma­homes last week, shut­ting down an of­fense’s first op­tion in the air might mean the play is just get­ting started against the fu­ture Hall of Famer.

“He’s just elu­sive and he’s a big guy to bring down. We got to wrap our arms, grab cloth on the way through on the rush and make sure we get our hands on him,” Guen­ther said. “With Ma­homes we did a pretty good job of tak­ing away his first read. He made a lot of plays with his feet, get­ting out of the pocket. A lot of re­ally im­pres­sive throws. Ben is very much of that, be­ing able to do those things. There is go­ing to be five or six plays where he may slide out to the right or left and throw the ball down the field.”

Roeth­lis­berger has been sacked only 17 times this sea­son, 27th-most in the league, and a healthy dose of plays are kept alive by his feet. He has, how­ever, thrown the se­cond-most in­ter­cep­tions in the league (13), so op­por­tu­ni­ties will be there for Raiders de­fen­sive backs even if their pass rush re­mains ane­mic.

Whether the Raiders can cap­i­tal­ize on those gaffes, though, will de­ter­mine whether they hand Roeth­lis­berger his first win at the Coli­seum or a fourth con­sec­u­tive loss.

“He doesn’t look any dif­fer­ent to me when I was play­ing against him, when I was coach­ing last time or when I was in the booth or study­ing him now,” Raiders coach Jon Gru­den said. “He’s still got a great phys­i­cal pres­ence in the pocket. He still cre­ates a lot of of­fense when noth­ing is there with his scram­bling. He’s at his best when they need him the most. They need him a lot right now, so we’re ex­pect­ing the best from Roeth­lis­berger on Sun­day.”

• Mar­shawn Lynch nom­i­nated for Wal­ter Pay­ton Man of the Year for his good deeds. Each year all 32 teams nom­i­nate one player for the Wal­ter Pay­ton Man of the Year honor.

Lynch is in­volved heav­ily in his Fam1st Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, which ser­vices un­der­priv­i­leged youth in Oak­land and other com­mu­ni­ties. Lynch also helped make a kid’s wish come true through the MakeA-Wish Foun­da­tion, where the child vis­ited Raiders HQ and met Lynch in per­son.

Lynch is on in­jured re­serve and will miss the re­main­der of the sea­son.

ANDA CHU — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Raiders de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Guen­ther had a rough time against Steel­ers QB Ben Roeth­lis­berger when he was in Cincin­nati.

DON WRIGHT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Steel­ers QB Ben Roeth­lis­berger, who faces the Raiders on Sun­day, has feasted on Paul Guen­ther’s de­fenses in the past.

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