With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Maurkice Pouncey, C
If you have been able to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers offense this year and not take notice of a difference in the quality of play at the center position, then I can’t help but take some pity upon you, because Cody Wallace and Fernando Velasco cannot do what Maurkice Pouncey can, and it makes this a better offense.
After missing virtually the entirety of the 2013 season after suffering a friendly fire injury that resulted in a serious ACL tear, Pouncey has not missed a beat all season, or even offseason, having been physically involved every step of the way.
He has not missed a single snap due to injury all year, either. In fact, he’s played more snaps than any other center in the league. That’s a pretty big turnaround from playing just eight snaps a year ago.
The only seven snaps that he has missed came during the final seven plays in the Panthers game, in which the Steelers were winning handily. The coaching staff also took out Ben Roethlisberger for the first and only snaps he’s missed since 2012.
Pouncey is certainly back to his old self, perhaps at times playing better than he ever has, and will undoubtedly earn another Pro Bowl nod for his efforts this year. Four trips to the Pro Bowl in your first five seasons, one of which you missed due to injury, is not a bad way to start a career.
It’s sometimes difficult to grade centers very positively when it comes to pass protection, because it’s frequently the case that they’re left with nobody to block one-on-one, and their primary test is feeling out from which direction—to their left or right—the more significant pressure will come. Pouncey has done well in this regard this year.
He may well be at his best as a run-blocking center, however. Outside of a couple of dips in performance in some division games earlier this year, the Steelers have been able to run up the middle with great success, including 348 yards on 70 carries off either side of the center for nearly five yards per carry.