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.
Though his career with the Steelers ended in inauspicious fashion, left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was on pace to go down as one of the greats in team history during the time in which they were competing in Super Bowls. In fact, he was having his best season the year after their last Super Bowl appearance until a midseason hamstring strain signaled the derailment of his career, seemingly for good.
But before all of that went down, Woodley played an integral role in elevating the Steelers’ pass to a championship level, nabbing a starting spot in his second year in 2008, posting 11.5 sacks of his own and going on a playoff tear. In fact, he tallied two sacks in each of his first four postseason games, including the 2008 championship run, which concluded with a strip sack from the man himself.
For the amount of time that he has missed on the field since 2011, it seems almost hard to believe that the Steelers are just one season removed from fielding Woodley as an opening day starter, as they did in 2013. But with his injuries, and eventually a stint on injured reserve, the spot was given to Jason Worilds for the past season and a half.
Worilds will never have the opportunity to claim that spot for himself, however, after he recently retired. The eventual successor for that role would seem to be rookie first-round draft pick Bud Dupree, but for now, it will be Arthur Moats.
Moats, a former late-round draft pick who spent the early portions of his career playing in inopportune schemes for his skill set, joined the Steelers on a one-year veteran-minimum contract, and ended up playing a key role due to injury.
After performing well in his role, he was rewarded with a three-year contract, and figures to start at left outside linebacker until Dupree is ready to become the full-time starter. While Moats may not be the type of franchise cornerstone rusher that Woodley was for a time, I suspect that he can provide at a sufficient level.
And of course, Dupree is on the horizon, who has a wealth of potential. A physical freak in terms of size, speed, height, and agility, he does have the ability to become a franchise cornerstone. But don’t expect that to happen from day one.