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.
The Steelers had the luxury of having Ike Taylor man one of the cornerback spots for most of the past decade and then some, a feat that included starts in three Super Bowls following the 2005, 2008, and 2010 seasons, with Pittsburgh emerging victorious in two of them.
A raw former fourth-round draft pick in 2003, Taylor emerged as a starter during the 2005 season, posting a career-high 91 tackles to go along with an interception. He added another 20 tackles during the postseason, and recorded an interception in the AFC Championship Game, followed by another in the Super Bowl.
By 2008, Taylor had begun to establish himself as the team’s shutdown corner, who was gradually entrusted the responsibility of trailing the opposing team’s best receiver, often with no safety help over the top. Though not as obvious in the statistics, 2008s was one of his better seasons, and one of the best defensive seasons for the team as a whole in recent history.
Taylor helped contributed to yet another historically great defense in 2010, and had one of his more productive seasons by recording two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a sack, en route to yet another Super Bowl appearance.
With his retirement, the long-term future of his position on the team is in flux. For now, his replacement will be William Gay, who for the majority of his career has manned the slot, but is now being tasked with the role of the team’s top cornerback.
There was hope that Cortez Allen might develop into that role. He has a stature similar to Taylor, and while he lacks the elder’s speed, he seemed to make up for it in turnovers. Meanwhile, the Steelers must wait to see how their two young draft picks develop.
With Gay as your top cornerback, it’s probably fair to say that it would be a stretch to call your secondary a strength, but the Steelers can win with him, as they did last season. But he is not the long-term answer for the top cornerback spot, even if he wasn’t already 30.