The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of the time between their last playoff victory and now replenishing their roster in preparation for their next chance to make a push for a championship. Last season showed signs that the team was on its way out of that transitional phase after posting a division-winning 11-5 record following back to back .500 seasons.
Still, the Steelers failed to make it out of the divisional round, and have lost their last three postseason contests, dating back to Super Bowl XLV. They followed up that 2010 run with a 12-4 wildcard campaign that saw a first-round exit, and subsequently failed to return to the playoffs the following two years.
So how close might they be to righting the ship and returning to that place that they have been more than any other franchise—that is, holding up the Lombardi Trophy? One way to attempt to measure that would be to compare how this season’s lineup projects against past teams.
For these purposes, it might be helpful to cite both the 2008 and 2010 teams, which are, respectively, the teams that have claimed their most recent Super Bowl championship and their most recent Super Bowl appearance.
Drawing a comparison between past Steelers tackles is interesting because, in truth, they have never had an overly impressive group, without too many Pro Bowls to their credit in recent history. And as a matter of fact, the starting left tackle in the team’s past two Super Bowl appearances did not begin that season in the starting lineup.
In 2008, that was Max Starks, who entered the starting lineup due to injury after the first five games at left tackle. Interestingly, he was the starting right tackle for the Steelers’ 2005 championship, but he found a home on the left side during this run.
Starks was an adequate, if somewhat passive run blocker, but he had a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger that made the pairing work, more often than not. The fact is that he was probably the best lineman on that line.
He played another four years as the Steelers’ primary starting left tackle, but after suffering a serious neck injury during the 2010 season, his year was over, and in came journeyman Jonathan Scott.
Now, Scott may be more than deserving of a great deal of criticism for his on-field performance, but the reality is that he did as best he could in a situation that he never should have been in, and he did enough to get them to the Super Bowl, with a few blips here and there.
The Steelers certainly seem to be in a better place with fourth-year tackle Kelvin Beachum, who played nearly every snap last season on the left side and improved steadily as a pass protector for the best season of Roethlisberger’s career.
It’s true that he still has some work to do in the running game, though he is better than many give him credit for. But with Roethlisberger making it an annual tradition of setting a new franchise mark for passing attempts, his strengths are prioritized. And the trajectory of his career suggests that he will continue to improve this season thanks to his dedication and commitment.