By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) are playing their seventh game this week and will start their seventh different offensive line.
The expected starting five up front against the Arizona Cardinals (1-4) Sunday at 4:05 p.m. at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. should be Max Starks at left tackle, Chris Kemoeatu at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center, Ramon Foster at right guard and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.
The Steelers have used three left tackles — Jonathan Scott, Trai Essex and Starks the past two games. They have had three different left guards — Kemoeatu, Foster and Doug Legursky. Kemoeatu returns after missing two weeks with a sore left knee, but Legursky has a dislocated toe and is out now.
Pouncey has been the starting center in every game, but the right guards have been Legursky and Foster the past three games. And the right tackles have been Willie Colon to start the season, Gilbert and Scott in the last game. Colon suffered a season-ending triceps injury in the opener, while Gilbert has been battling a shoulder problem in recent weeks.
“I know I’ve had a lot of different guys around me, but as long as we keep getting Ws, we’ll be fine this season,” Pouncey said. “We’ve had some struggles, but we had 185 rushing yards last week and 175 the week before. So, it definitely hasn’t been too big of a problem.”
Kemoeatu is known as a devastating run-blocker, so it’s amazing that the Steelers have been so successful with him out of the lineup the past two weeks. Of course, the competition level had something to do with that. But business is about to pick up with Arizona on the road this week, followed by the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens at home.
“Ramon’s been in there, and he did a good job at it,” Kemoeatu said. “Doug played well, too, but now he’s out. So, hopefully, I won’t have any problems and I’ll be back this week. I think I could have played last week, but the extra week to rest and rehab my left knee was really helpful. So, I plan to play.
“I hope I don’t have to deal with this all year, but it is what it is. I got some strength back last week and was able to rest and rehab it, so I feel pretty good. The last four weeks, I probably had it drained three times. Just loose cartilage in there, and it swells up here and there. I never had surgery, but I’ll probably need to have it after the season to get that cartilage out of there.”
“It was about 50-50 at the beginning of this season, for surgery or rehab, but there’s been stuff in there before, cartilage and I don’t know what else,” Kemoeatu added. “But it felt good playing on it. There was no pain until this year. I got a lot of rest and rehabbed it, but it acted up again a couple weeks ago and swelled up. So, it feels good now, and we’ll take it from there.”
Pouncey’s good health is critical as well. He hasn’t missed much time and no starts due to intermittent ankle and knee problems this season. He’ll need to be solid against Arizona’s mammoth defensive front three. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton, the Steelers’ former secondary coach, changed the Cardinals to the three-four defense this season.
Calais Campbell (6-foot-8, 300 pounds) is the left end, while Dan Williams (6-3, 327) is the nose tackle and Darnell Dockett (6-4, 290) is the right end. Former Steelers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are the pass-rushing outside backers.
“They have a really good defensive line, a big defensive line,” Pouncey said. “Dockett, he’s a real good pass-rusher, and No. 93 (Campbell) … he’s huge. And he can play some good football. So, it’s going to be a test.”
This will be the fourth road game for the Steelers and their third played indoors, so crowd noise could be a factor once again for the club. They struggled with a silent count in Baltimore, Houston and Indianapolis earlier this season.
“We should be more used to it now, because we already played some games in domes and should do real well with our communication,” Pouncey said. “We have struggled some on the road. So, we have to keep communicating out there, and we’ll be fine. So, we’ll work on that this week.”
The Steelers haven’t used much no-huddle offense this year, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has lobbied for more, even in a hostile road environment.
“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of Steelers fans out there, so as long as they don’t yell too much while we’re on offense we should be fine,” Roethlisberger said.