When Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a fractured fibula during the preseason, veteran reserve Cody Wallace knew that he had a tall task ahead of him trying to replace the first-team All-Pro lineman.
No matter how well the journeyman in his third season with the Steelers would perform, it would never live up to the standards that Pouncey has set over the course of the first several years of his career, during which every healthy season ended in the Pro Bowl and at least a second-team All-Pro nod.
And to be sure, Wallace’s performance through the first quarter of the season thus far has been at a level substantially below the benchmark that Pouncey sets for the center position on the Steelers, and around the league, as one of the best currently in the NFL.
And when Pouncey returns to the team, hopefully sometime soon after midseason, he will absolutely provide a major boost to this offensive line and perhaps help see the offense reach its full potential, as they have been far from a full deck all year.
The Steelers played the first two games of the season without first-team All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, Pouncey, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who emerged as a big play threat in his rookie season.
After two games, Bell returned, Pouncey and Bryant remained out, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sustained a sprained MCL in addition to a bone bruise that figures to keep him out, for perhaps three or more games.
If things align properly, perhaps the offense will be at full strength once Pouncey returns, and they should be hitting their groove by the time the postseason comes, by which point they will hopefully have secured a record worthy of entry.
Getting Pouncey back into the mix along the offensive line will have a lot to do with that, as it opens up a wider swath of the Steelers’ playbook, not merely in terms of what they can run, but what they can run with a high degree of success and efficiency.
The Steelers have not been shy in getting Wallace out in space and on the move, asking him to do many things that Pouncey has made seem routine. Watching Wallace attempt these blocks has served as a healthy reminder that they are anything but routine, and that Pouncey’s ability to execute them with regularity makes him a special talent.
Wallace has not played as poorly as his preseason and early regular season performance might have indicated. In fact, I would suggest that his performance against the Ravens was his best of the season, and one of the better games he has had with the Steelers, few though they may be.
But after taking a closer look at his performance—which, if you have access to Pro Football Focus, is not nearly as dreadful as their grading suggests—the room for improvement is obvious, especially in space and against bigger-bodied defensive linemen. He has his limits, and he has blown some plays, but given the circumstances, it must be said that he has largely held his own.