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.
When the Steelers last hoisted the Lombardi, Willie Parker was on his last legs in 2008, having broken his leg in the season finale of the previous year, which helps explain why the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round that year, who would be the team’s featured back in 2010, their last Super Bowl appearance.
Parker missed five games during the 2008 season due to injury, but when he did play, he averaged nearly 20 attempts per game. on 210 attempts, however, he managed just 791 yards, under four yards per attempt, with five touchdowns.
But backup Mewelde Moore, who started four games, added another five touchdowns, plus one through the air, rushing for nearly 600 yards on 140 attempts. By the end of the regular season, however, he contributed little.
Mendenhall started one game that year and suffered a broken shoulder. He took the starting job from Parker in 2009, however, and had his best season during the team’s 2010 Super Bowl run.
That year, he totaled over 300 carries, gaining nearly 1300 yards on the ground and rushing for 13 touchdowns during the regular season. He added another four rushing touchdowns during the Steelers’ three postseason games.
Yet none of these backs present the danger of the Steelers’ current backfield threat, Le’Veon Bell, who last season set a new club record for yards from scrimmage in a season by decimating the team’s previous high water mark for receptions by a running back.
His 83 receptions last year ranked second on the team, being only Antonio Brown. Tight end Heath Miller had never cracked the 80-reception mark in his 10-year career. His 854 receiving yards, paired with 1361 rushing yards, gave him over 2200 yards for the season, and he totaled 11 touchdowns, with a strong bias toward the end of the year (eight in his last five full games), suggesting an upward trajectory.
The Steelers have had the luxury of having multiple Hall of Fame backs in their history, but put simply, none of them have been as dynamic as Bell, which in this era of the game is very important. Having him in the backfield in the future stands as an upgrade over the team’s last two trips to the big dance.