For as highly touted as the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been heading into the 2015 season, there was perhaps no single source of anticipated growth than the predicted strides forward that the offensive line would be able to take in its second full season together under Mike Munchak.
Of course, those plans for growth were unceremoniously thrown off course with the leg injury suffered by All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey, who underwent surgery yesterday, and whose ability to return to play at any point during the season is yet to be determined.
It is an all too familiar refrain, echoing the events of the 2013 season, in which it was believed that the building blocks of a franchise offensive line were finally put in place and the growth process was set to begin, but narrative was quickly shut down just eight snaps into the season opener after Pouncey, again, was lost for the year in the process of making a block in the running game.
The difference between now and then, of course, is that they know who will be filling in for Pouncey, that he is currently on the roster and knows the system, and that, of course, they actually have time to prepare for it.
During that time, the Steelers players and coaches acknowledged that Pouncey’s injury left them a bit shellshocked, and it was evident in their performance on the field as they quickly jumped out to a 0-4 record to start the season. The hole that they had dug was too deep to climb out from in spite of a 6-2 record in the second half of the season.
This year was also different, however, because the offensive line this time around held ambitions of exalting itself into a truly elite unit. To do so now with unquestionably your best player would be a supremely difficult task.
There is simply no way around the fact that Pouncey’s injury throws a wrench into the Steelers’ ambitions for the offensive line. Not to say that the team as a whole cannot succeed with Cody Wallace at the center position for whatever length is necessary, but the elite unit that was ostensibly under construction is now on hold until he is able to return.
It is true that the individual linemen have been making strides on their own, improving their game in terms of recognition and technique, but without a cohesive unit in place, that chemistry will not have the opportunity to develop until everybody is back on the field together.
The body of evidence suggests that Wallace will be a capable replacement—he played four games at the end of the 2013 season at center and parlayed that into a three-year contract—and certainly, the offense will march forward into battle with the troops available to them.
But it would be misguided to paint the loss of Pouncey for whatever length of time as less of a blow that it is. Especially with the offense expected to be relied upon more than ever in 2015, the loss of one of your best players on that side of the ball will have its impact, even if the extent it yet to be determined.