PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' defense will try to tackle its biggest challenge of the season in more ways than one at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is listed at 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds but appears to weigh more than 260. He probably is bigger than Eagles defensive ends Trent Cole (6-3, 270 pounds) and Jason Babin (6-3, 267) and other members of the defense that will try to sack him.
"Arm tackles are not going to get it done," Cole said. "Grabbing one leg or something won't work, or trying to sack him with one arm. Most quarterbacks, you probably can do that, but with him you can't."
Roethlisberger also is off to the best start of his nine-year career. He enters the game ranked second in the NFL with a 109.2 quarterback efficiency rating. Only Atlanta's Matt Ryan (112.1) is higher.
Roethlisberger also has done a good job of protecting the football. Through three games, the 30-year-old has completed 82-of-120 passes (68.3 percent) for 904 yards and eight touchdowns against just one interception. Only Ryan (69.2 completion percentage) has been more accurate, and of the quarterbacks who have attempted at least 120 passes, Minnesota's Christian Ponder is the only who has yet to throw an interception.
"He does a lot of things well, but the one thing he does a great job with is that he extends plays," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He's very strong in the pocket, and he has mobility. He always keeps his eyes down the field. If you have that one quality that is a little different than some of the other quarterbacks, he keeps every play alive. As a secondary player, you better continue to cover your player until the play is history and it's over, or he's going to make you pay for it."
Roethlisberger hasn't been untouchable this season. A porous offensive line has surrendered nine sacks. But that total would be even higher if not for his size, strength and awareness.
If one of his receivers isn't immediately open, he has no qualms about waiting until someone breaks free, even if it means absorbing an extra hit or two.
"I have no intention of trying to extend a play; it just happens that way," Roethlisberger said in a phone interview. "It comes from not ever wanting to quit. I hate to quit on a play or on my team. I don't want to give up a sack and I'm always going to fight for extra yards. Sometimes it can demoralize a defense when you fight through a sack or you extend a play and pick up a first down. That's tough on a defense. But it's just never wanting to quit."
Roethlisberger seemingly is admired for his aggressive approach while Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is criticized for his dogged refusal to slide or throw the ball away at the first opportunity.
That may be because of his turnovers. Vick threw six interceptions and lost three fumbles in the Eagles' first three games. He was mistake-free in last Sunday's 19-17 victory over the New York Giants.
"Sometimes you just get in situations where you just try to force things and make things happen," Vick said. "Sometimes that can be kryptonite for a quarterback, when you know you can get it done and you try so hard you don't let it come naturally. Sometimes it can hurt you. You get into a groove, you learn to play within the system and just try to do that over and over again."
The Eagles' defense will try to break out of a minislump with its pass rush against the Steelers. One year after tying for the league lead with 50 sacks, the Eagles had just seven in their first four games, including none against the Giants' Eli Manning.
All they have to do is find a way to tackle Roethlisberger.
"Getting him down is not going to be easy," Eagles rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. "That's a big dude."
Extra points: Linebacker Akeem Jordan (strained hamstring) will not play against the Steelers. Jamar Chaney will make his second straight start at weakside linebacker. ... Safety Colt Anderson (hyperxtended knee), guard/tackle King Dunlap (strained hamstring) and defensive tackle Derek Landri (knee inflammation) are questionable. Anderson and Landri are expected to play. Demetress Bell likely will start at left tackle in place of Dunlap again. ... Wide receiver Riley Cooper (broken collarbone) might make his season debut.
Contact David Weinberg: