The Pittsburgh Steelers’ ‘first-team’ offense may have failed to put up even a single point on Thursday night against the Eagles, but the game was still a major victory in one absolutely key way: All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey not only returned to action for the first time in about a year for a full quarter, he did so playing very effectively.
Considering the fact that he has not had such live fire in such a long time, in fact, I would go so far as to call his performance against Philadelphia excellent, and he looked to be near the top of his game. Over the course of about 20 or so snaps on the night, I do not have him down for a single bad or ‘lost’ snap.
There is to be no doubt that the former 2010 first-round draft pick had been chomping at the bit to get back on the field. He probably would have played every snap in the preseason opener if Mike Tomlin had allowed him to, but the head coach knows better and wants to protect his prized lineman from himself, and from more freak accidents.
Since he has had nearly two full seasons taken away from him in the span of the past three seasons, Pouncey has come to value the ability and opportunity to play football at a level that I suspect few do. In fact, he seemed to come pretty close to losing that ability last year after undergoing more than half a dozen surgeries due to complications with an injury that he suffered in the preseason last year.
As much as his backup, Cody Wallace, might be praised for his aggressiveness on the field, the fact of the matter is that nobody sets the tone along the offensive line the way that the four-time Pro-Bowl center does. And I also hope that certain people come to realize this season the difference between a player like Pouncey and a replacement-level player in how the offense is able to function.
There are few centers in the league gifted with Pouncey’s athletic abilities, which he still has on full display in spite of his injury history. His brother, with the Dolphins, is one of the few who can consistently execute the sort of reach blocks and second-level assignments that he does, and which open the play book significantly.
Though the preseason offense is necessarily relatively vanilla in nature, with the fundamental purpose in evaluating individual talent rather than execution of a game plan, we still got the opportunity to see some of Pouncey’s athletic ability on display. There was even a busted screen pass on which he found himself looking back into the pocket to wait for the ball to be delivered before he could legally engage in a downfield block.
Consistently turning his man out of the running lane, the 2014 first-team All-Pro really made a different in how the first-team offense ran against the Eagles, and I will have a film study of some of his first-quarter work a bit later in the week.