The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) play host to Bill O'Brien's 0-2 Houston Texans this Sunday, and the stage is set for a potentially fierce battle. Led by the resurgent six-time Pro Bowler Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, this Steelers offense will be tough to contain, and Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus is wary of the 'savvy vet.'
"Big Ben (Roethlisberger). He’s back," said Mercilus on Friday. "Slinging the ball of course. Everything starts and stops with him. He’s been in the league for a number of years. Very savvy vet as well, too."
The 38-year old two-time Super Bowl champion has been efficient and back to the Big Ben of old so far this season. Unlike Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Roethlisberger has surely been comfortable in the knowledge his line will keep him upright, having endured just three sacks to date.
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And Mercilus is clearly keen to bring an end to this comfort.
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"Defensively, we’ve got to be able to stop the run," said Mercilus. "That’s one of the biggest keys and make sure that Ben is not too comfortable in that pocket."
Mercilus later went on to elaborate; "For a guy who's played a number of years, if I were him, I wouldn’t want to get hit. Guys flying around the edge and coming up the pocket, too."
If Anthony Weaver's defense is able to bring the pressure come Sunday, the 'savvy vet' Roethlisberger will know the key will be getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. And Mercilus expects nothing less.
"Of course, he’s going to try to get that ball out as quickly as possible," Mercilus said. "Probably do a little bit of some chipping or whatnot, chip on the edges for the pass rushers. Also, some seven-man fronts and play-action could possibly be in there as well, too."
When it comes to more experienced players, especially ones with the quality of the Steelers' signal-caller, it would be unrealistic to expect them not to make plays against you. Plays will be made, passes caught, and points scored, it's as simple as that. The key for Houston will be damage limitation.
"Just seeing him, he’s a savvy vet so of course, he’s going to read our defense, try to use his cadence a lot just to understand what we’re trying to play, and try to pick us apart," Mercilus admitted.
A 'savvy vet' himself, Mercilus hasn't gotten off to the best of starts this season by his high standards. By this time last season, he'd recorded three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. So far in 2020, these columns remain blank for the 30-year old.
Perhaps the motivation of stopping a future Hall of Fame quarterback will give the nine-year Texans veteran the boost he needs to get back to his dominating best.