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.
There’s no arguing that depth at the quarterback position was an integral part of the Steelers weathering the storm that was the first quarter of the 2010 season, when Ben Roethlisberger was serving a four-game suspension. While it’s true that the defense stepped up to lead the team, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch helped keep the ship upright on offense en route to a 3-1 record.
Even Byron Leftwich managed to log some time in the regular season finale that year as the starters rested up for a postseason run that culminated in a Super Bowl appearance.
During the 2008 preseason, Batch suffered a season-ending injury, which prompted the Steelers to sign Leftwich in the first place. Even though Roethlisberger managed to start every game that year, however, he still missed close to 100 snaps. Leftwich played at least 30 snaps twice that year in blowout victories.
Of course, the backup quarterbacks don’t always get a lot of attention because they’re not supposed to play. But the Steelers were very fortunate to have the likes of low-maintenance veterans such as Batch and Leftwich behind Roethlisberger for most of his career. Batch in particular helped turn the franchise quarterback into the player, and leader, that he is today.
Today, Bruce Gradkowski is going on his third season as Roethlisberger’s backup, but he’s only had to play 10 snaps. He’s proven against the Steelers before, however, that he can win games, and he has around him one of the best offenses the team has ever had.
Will Landry Jones ever prove worthy enough to throw a pass in a meaningful game? While he has shown very little through two seasons, there have been some favorable training camp reports of late. It’s imperative that he show tangible improvement during the preseason this year, especially if Gradkowski’s shoulder is less than 100 percent.