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.
While one cornerback position seemingly remained a constant for the Steelers throughout their Super Bowl era of the 00s, it would be fair to say that the opposing starting slot on the outside was regularly in flux, or at least somewhat unstable. And it would be equally fair to say that it remains in such a state to this day.
The reasons for that varied, however, between injury and inability, as remains the case to this day. Going back to the 2008 championship season, for example, Bryant McFadden started the first seven games before suffering an arm injury, and wound up effectively splitting time with William Gay for much of the remainder of the season. McFadden played just over half of the snaps in Super Bowl XLIII.
But McFadden was able to cash in his performance for a free agent contract in 2009, prompting a promotion for Gay in 2009 to full-time starter, for which he proved unready. The Steelers traded for McFadden back the following season, and he started every game en route to another Super Bowl appearance, even if it ended in defeat.
Thanks to an injury McFadden was dealing with in 2011, Gay ending up starting almost all of the 2011 season before leaving for Arizona. But he has been back the past two years, and has started 24 of 32 games over the past two years on the outside in spite of the fact that he was brought back to play the slot.
Now, it’s Gay being asked to be the top cornerback as the Steelers hope to eke out a redemption project from Cortez Allen, who is trying to scrape himself off the floor that he landed face down on last season.
While there’s certainly nothing saying that Allen can’t turn things around and produce a successfully 2015 campaign, righting his ship and reorienting his career path, the fact that the Steelers are even in this position is reminiscent of teams past, which has lacked true stability at the spot for more than a year at a time.