Smith responds to teammate's challenge

Andre Smith

Here's what Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis means by being unselfish.

Take a bow Anthony Collins.

At halftime of Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Browns, right tackle Andre Smith knew he was struggling. It hasn't happened often this year in his first true season of NFL ball, but there was Browns rookie left end Jabbaal Sheard making some plays on him in both the running and passing game.

One of his teammates approached him and told him, "Dre, this is going to make you a man. Either you're going to go into a hole or you're going to come out and be the player I know you can be and everyone on this team knows you can be."

It was Collins, one of the backup tackles who played Smith's spot the past two seasons while Smith struggled with his broken foot.

"It put the pressure on me," Smith said. "I was thinking about that prior to him saying that. He put it together in my mind about everyone else besides myself."

Smith responded with a big second half as the Bengals didn't allow a sack in their fifth fourth-quarter comeback of the season.

"I had to let it go," he said. "I was just trying to be too patient. Trying to be too technical. Trying to do everything too perfectly instead of just playing football. That's what it came down to. I just had to play football."

Smith and his line have done that most of the season. The Bengals are fourth in the league in allowing sacks per pass, a huge factor in in the success of a rookie quarterback. They've also cracked the tough Ravens red zone defense, solved the NFL's loudest noise of Seattle, and blanked the Steelers pass rush.

Now comes Smith's toughest challenge of the season Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Pittsburgh. Steelers sack ace Lamarr Woodley didn't play three weeks ago with an injured hamstring, but Smith prepared like he was going to play him because last season at Paul Brown Stadium, Woodley wrestled Smith for two sacks and a forced fumble. Woodley is expected to play for the first time in a month Sunday.

"Andre's a different player than he was then," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Back then he didn't have the benefit of training camp (because of his broken foot) and he just hadn't played much football. He's getting himself ready each week. He understands what it takes and he's preparing himself to get better every week."

Smith has pulled no punches on why he's put it together this year. He's not only healthier, but more grown up. As he prepared for Woodley, he said last month that it was like getting a different person ready for the matchup.

"When I played him last time, I wasn't as mature as I am now," Smith said before Thursday's practice. "I'm looking forward to playing him. He'll be fresh. He'll be ready."

The coaches absolved Smith of Sheard's sack and strip of quarterback Andy Dalton at the end of the first half Sunday, saying that Dalton should have unloaded the pass long before and not been 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

"It wasn't my mistake. But I could have done something better on that play. We all could have done something better on that play," Smith said. "But I had to move on to the next play. You can't change it. You have to roll with the punches."

No doubt Smith is going to have to do that at some point Sunday because Woodley is going to make some plays. Smith's challenge is to minimize Woddley's athleticism and the coaches have been impressed with Smith's progress in pass protection. It's easy to forget that Sunday marks his 12th start of the season after starting his career playing in just 13 games the previous two seasons.

Finally, in his third season, Smith plays in Pittsburgh for the first time.

"It's going to be more intense at their place," he said. "It's going to be extremely loud. You're going to have to pay more attention to the things going on around you. I just have to worry about being prepared."

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