The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: How big of a blow is the loss of Marcus Gilbert for the next four games?
Chances are you have heard by now that Steelers veteran right tackle Marcus Gilbert has suspended for the next for games stemming from a violation of the performance-enhancing substances policy. If you haven’t heard that yet, then you are not reading the site frequently enough.
In his seventh season, Gilbert has steadily improved at the right tackle position over the course of the past several years, and has become regarded as among the more underrated players at that spot. The issue with him, however, has always been staying on the field. He has only played 16 games twice, and one of those seasons he played through injury.
It’s not injury this time, of course, that is sidelining him, but we have already seen that as well. He only started three games in the first half of the season, and it was more like the equivalent of two games, because he left two of them due to injury. He started the previous two games on the other side of the bye and has only played a bit over 200 snaps on the season.
So the Steelers have already gained experience playing without Gilbert this year—in fact, have spent the majority of the season without him on the field. From that perspective, of course, it should be viewed as a storm that they can weather, because, well, they have already done so.
But while Chris Hubbard has filled in generally well during Gilbert’s absence, he has struggled working against some of the better edge rushers. Carlos Dunlap is one player over the next four games I would expect to give him trouble.
Considering that the running game has already been inefficient, replacing Gilbert with Hubbard again is also not going to do the offense any favors. But ultimately, as long as they beat the Patriots, chances are things will be handled. Hubbard did start and play reasonably well against them in the regular season last year, though they lost with Landry Jones at quarterback.