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 third safety may not play as prominent a role in a defense as the third cornerback—though some teams use a third safety more than the Steelers do—we have seen a number of times the critical value of having that extra option on the sideline that can come in and play.
Pittsburgh really benefitted from having Tyrone Carter for a few years, including during the 2008 season. That year was not his most prolific in terms of playing time, but he did end up starting two games, and came down with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
The following year, Carter started 12 games, intercepting another two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and also forced a fumble. In six years with the Steelers, he recorded six interceptions and forced seven fumbles in addition to registering 4.5 sacks, all in a limited role.
Following the 2009 season, however, the Steelers looked to move on with Ryan Mundy, who was finally healthy and seemingly ready for a bigger role. In 2010, he filled in for two games, and played quite well, even if he didn’t register any turnovers.
In 2011, his role expanded a bit as the Steelers used some more of the quarters package with three safeties on the field, and he recorded his first interception of his career. In the following season, however, with Troy Polamalu out an extended period of time, Mundy struggled trying to replace him on a full-time basis, and was benched.
He was replaced in the lineup by Will Allen, who started seven games and played well in his place. He played so well, in fact, that he was offered a starting position in Dallas, and he took the chance in 2013, but ended up back in Pittsburgh a quarter of the way through the year.
Due to injury circumstances, the Steelers relied heavily on sub-packages that year, which meant that Allen played a key role, and he registered 34 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble in spite of not starting a game.
Allen remains the third safety as he now backs up Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas. Should either one falter or get injured, the Steelers feel confident in Allen’s ability to step into the lineup and keep things going without incident, though at 33, one wonders if this will be his last year.
It’s also fair to point out that since leaving Pittsburgh, Mundy has started 25 games, registering 180 tackles, two sacks, and five interceptions, most of which were accumulated in his 16 starts with Chicago in 2014.