In most circumstances you would expect a defensive end like the Texans Antonio Smith to be beaming with anticipation when facing a offensive line in as poor of shape as the one the Pittsburgh Steelers will bring into Reliant Stadium on Sunday.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was literally combing the streets of Pittsburgh looking for bodies to practice with this week after three offensive line starters suffered injuries, two of which had to be helped off the field, during their 23-20 win over Indianapolis on Sunday night.
If ever there was an opportunity to exploit a glaring weakness this seems it. But personal experience has taught Smith not to take for granted a team’s perceived depth issues.
“I said that in an interview that that’s the exact same way I got my chance and got my chance to shine,” Smith said. “I’ve never got to see any of these guys play that’s supposed to be starting, so I don’t know if they’re good or not.
“At one point in time, it was an offensive lineman when I first got my first snap that probably took it for granted who I was. I think I got a sack that game, too.”
It wasn’t like the Steelers offensive front had been playing all that great prior to last Sunday, but the prospect that left tackle Jonathan Scott (left ankle), center Dough Legursky (left shoulder) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (left shoulder) are all coming off injuries could hinder Pittsburgh even more. Tomlin wasn’t sure if Gilbert and Legursky would be able to go while he said Scott is probable against the Texans.
The Steelers depth along the offensive line is so bad that if Scott can’t go, Trai Essex, who was a street free agent just last month, could be in charge of protecting the blindside of quarterback Roethlisberger.
But the Texans don’t seem as concerned with what the Steelers patchwork offensive line could look like as they are with facing an offense that still has plenty of weapons and firepower.
“I see a good football team,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said when asked if he thought the Steelers offensive line was a weak point to be exploited. “They got some guys nicked. Everybody in the league’s battling some place, somewhere with nicked players and I know they got the tackle nicked last week, so that’s part of something we all got to battle right now.
“But I see a quarterback back there running around making plays like he always does for his team. They got great team speed and they’re making really big plays in the pass game, so we got our hands full.”
But if outside linebacker Mario Williams, and J.J. Watt and Smith can have the kind of success the Colts Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had against this group last week then it could turn into a huge advantage. Freeney and Mathis kept the pressure on, sacking Roethlisberger three times and pressure him into bad throws on two other occasions.
“I think any time you’re put in a situation like that, you have to try and capitalize on it,” Watt said. “Obviously, they’re a little bit banged up so we want to go out there as a defensive line and try and do everything we can to take advantage of that situation.”
The problem for the Texans will be once they get through the Steelers offensive line they will have to deal with bringing down Roethlisberger, who at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds has proven over the years to be hard to take down.
“You know he’s a tough guy to bring down,” said inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. “You watch him on film constantly breaking tackles, so when guys go up to him, they’re going to have to approach him differently. You’re going to have to approach him like he’s a big tight end or running back. You’re going to have to try to wrap up on him and definitely make sure you secure the tackle and put him down to the ground.”