(KDKA)- Fresh off a 38-29 win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Steelers sit atop the AFC North thanks to an unblemished 4-0 record. The defense has been strong and the offense has been rolling right along thanks to the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After missing last season with an elbow injury, it was uncertain what the team would get out of the 38-year-old QB this season. Thus far, it's been a career-best completion percentage (69.9%), touchdown percentage (7%) and interception percentage (0.7%). Though he's topped 300 yards just once, but he hasn't had to get into shootouts because of the strength of the defense.
Roethlisberger's old coach, Super Bowl XL winner and The NFL Today analyst Bill Cowher says he believes the year off gave Big Ben some "renewed freshness" in approaching the game.
"Sometimes, you don't appreciate something until it's been taken away from you. What happened last year is, football was taken away from him," said Cowher in an interview with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer. "He sat on that sideline and watched a team that really transformed from an offensive team into a defensive team when they picked up Minkah Fitzpatrick, harnessed Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, they got Tuitt back this year, he was out last year. Devin Bush is in his second year. It's a very solid defense. And, all of a sudden, he sees these young receivers and he's coming back into it with a renewed freshness and new perspective on things and a chance to do this again."
That perspective, combined with an enviable arsenal of weapons at receiver and a solid offensive line have played a big part in Roethlisberger's hot start to the season.
"He is playing really good football. He's not forcing things. It's a very unselfish group of receivers, you don't hear anybody yelling, wanting the ball," said Cowher. "He has just been able to sit there and take what the defense has been giving him and I think he's having a lot of fun playing the game."
It doesn't hurt that the aforementioned defense is one that the defensive stalwart Cowher terms "really good." He points to the pass rushing combination of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as reminiscent of Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd and the strength up the middle with Stefon Tuitt, Devin Bush and Minkah Fitzpatrick as the veteran foundation of what has allowed the defense to be successful. Add in nickel corner Mike Hilton blitzing off the edge and it's a recipe for trouble for opposing offenses.
"I think Mike Hilton is one of the better nickel corners because he has a great feel for blitzing. They utilize him well. It's a very veteran defense that has played together now for a few years and I think they have a good feel for one another. They put a lot of pressure on you," said Cowher. "Yeah, they have given up a couple of big plays but I give credit to some of the offenses. But, boy they're a team that just constantly has, they will harass you, they put pressure on you, they force you to be patient. And, if there's opportunities there, you better seize them because they come after you and they're relentless in doing so."
The opponent looking to take advantage of some of those opportunities this week is the Cleveland Browns. Entering 4-1, their best start since 1994, Cleveland has a chance to "make a statement" that they'll be competing for the division this year says Cowher.
The Steelers offensive line will have their hands full with defensive end Myles Garrett who has already racked up six sacks, three forced fumbles and 10 quarterback hits this season. The latest edition of the Steelers-Browns rivalry airs on CBS this Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
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