When it comes to Super Bowl ambitions, health is often an underrated factor. It’s not necessarily always the healthiest team that wins the Super Bowl, but the eventual champions tend to be far better off in that regard—and particularly in key positions—than most teams.
Health is obviously a major topic at the moment with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though they entered the final week of the regular season with the possibility of clinching the number one seed—a possibility that was spoiled by the New England Patriots dominating the New York Jets—head coach Mike Tomlin elected to name five starters healthy scratches.
Among those healthy scratches were four players who were named to the Pro Bowl and a fifth player who by any reasonable measure should have been as well. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, offensive linemen David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey, and defensive end Cameron Heyward were five of the seven inactives. Antonio Brown, another inactive, would have been an obvious healthy scratch as well, provided that he would have been healthy. Coty Sensabaugh rounded out the list.
With almost two weeks until the next Steelers game, it would be timely to take stock of where the team stands on the healthy front heading into the postseason. While their 53-man roster is in relatively good shape, that does not tell the full story. Let’s do this quickly by position.
There is no concern at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger has not missed a single snap due to injury all season. The only time he has missed has been because his offense put up enough points to put the game, or the season, in hand early. Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs are also fully healthy.
At running back, the Steelers lost their backup, James Conner, for the season, but have seemed to find an adequate replacement off the street in Stevan Ridley. Bell should be fresh and healthy with 20 days off between games. He narrowly avoided a major knee injury a couple games ago.
Wide receiver has a question mark at the top. Antonio Brown is recovering from a significant half injury, which will be almost a month removed from when the Steelers play next. Will he be healed enough in time to be a full go? Otherwise, the group is healthy. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a hamstring issue late in the year, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
The tight end group is dealing with a rare bout of health. Vance McDonald has missed something like half of the season due to injuries, but has been back the past two and contributing. Jesse James played through injury earlier in the year.
Ramon Foster returned from a concussion, but B.J. Finney, the backup interior lineman, suffered a thigh injury. We await word in the severity of that injury.
Defensively, the line is fresh and healthy. Stephon Tuitt has hardly come off the field in the second half of the season. The outside linebackers also appear to be as healthy as they have been all season. The inside linebacker position is another story. Ryan Shazier’s devastating injury was a major blow. Tyler Matakevich is also playing through a shoulder injury.
As for the secondary, they appear to be healthy at the right time. Coty Sensabaugh was a full go in practice after dealing with a shoulder injury. Joe Haden has been back for two games from a fibula fracture. Mike Mitchell has been back from a number of injuries for a while now as well.
And Chris Boswell is safely ensconced in bubble wrap somewhere deep within the confines of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.