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 reviewing the starting lineups of each of the Steelers’ past two Super Bowl appearances to today’s roster, I struggle to come up with a bigger upgrade than what the team currently has at the center position with Maurkice Pouncey, who, if you’ll recall actually did not play in Super Bowl XLV due to an ankle injury.
After the retirement of Jeff Hartings, a very good center in his own right, the Steelers experienced a period of transition at the position until they drafted Pouncey in 2010. The primary starter during that transitional period of Justin Hartwig, who, through watching him, helped me understand what bad offensive line play looked like.
That’s rather harsh, but also not far from the truth. During his two seasons in Pittsburgh, the greatest compliment owed to him was his ability to stay healthy, but he may very well have been the worst starting center in the league. And he was just as bad before the Steelers signed him as well.
During Super Bowl XLIII, late in the game, the Steelers were backed up on their own one-yard line when Hartwig was flagged for a holding call in the end zone on a third and 10 on which the team completed a 19-yard pass for a first down. The safety whittled their lead down to 20-16 and obviously gave the Cardinals the ball, who quickly scored in 21 seconds to take a three-point lead.
Hartwig played another full season with the Steelers in 2009 before they drafted Pouncey, who started the season opener and has gone on to four Pro Bowl appearances in four healthy seasons since then.
But it was Doug Legursky who started the Super Bowl that year, who, to be fair, did an adequate job in that game. There is no substitute for an All-Pro, however, and Pouncey has only gotten better since his rookie season. While some want to argue that he is overrated, he is, at worst, among the top centers at his position in the game.