Steelers: Maurkice Pouncey’s return crucial to offensive line success

Sep 11, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey (53) prepares to snap the ball in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 11, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey (53) prepares to snap the ball in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

After breaking his left fibula in week two of the 2015 preseason against the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers’ center Maurkice Pouncey returns to his position as the keystone of a young, but dominating offensive line.

In his absence, Cody Wallace performed admirably for an offensive lineman who had never started a full season in the NFL since being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2008. He displayed the ferocity and skill needed from a center, but was clearly not as adept as Pouncey.

Wallace, who hadn’t started a game at center since 2013, was called on fourteen penalties during the 2015 season. His penalties for offensive holding, a total of eight, stand out the most in his laundry list of infractions. Half of these holding penalties occurred in the Steelers’ own territory, sending them further back towards their own endzone.

In comparison, Pouncey has received a total of six holding penalties in the 62 games he has started in his career. It is uncertain how this number would differ had he not missed 2013 and 2015 due to injury, but Pouncey returns as perhaps the most important member of the Steelers’ offensive line.

Pouncey’s return could not have come at a better time, as the Steelers are prime candidates to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI. To make this feat a reality, protection of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is number one priority for the entire organization.

Wallace relinquished a total of 6.5 sacks, second only to Alejandro Villanueva‘s 7.5, during the 2015 season. In his four complete seasons as a starter, Pouncey has given up no more than four sacks a year to opposing defenses, which total out to eleven sacks allowed on his quarterback.

These simple statistics show just how important Pouncey is to the success of the Steelers’ offense. With the uncertainties that lie ahead in the future of Roethlisberger’s front five, his veteran presence and capabilities as a leader are indisputable.

While the right side of the offensive line is in the capable hands of David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert, Roethlisberger’s blindside is not as secure. The Steelers made decent moves to fortify the left side of the offensive line in the offseason, but questions still remain unanswered as to how it will live up to expectations.

Villanueva and former Denver Broncos’ tackle Ryan Harris will compete for a starting spot this summer, while Ramon Foster was re-signed to keep his job as starting left guard. Even in his thirties, Foster is playing decent football, but could be the weak link in the offensive line heading into the future.

Foster gave up five sacks, second most in his career since he allowed six in 2010, last season and has had a history of health concerns. The Steelers were very fortunate Foster was able to start every game they appeared in last season, as there was very limited depth behind him.

Pouncey’s return would allow Wallace to fill in at guard, a position he is much more acclimated with than center, if Foster’s play should decline or he is sidelined due to injury. Having this sort of depth on the offensive line is crucial to completing the season with Roethlisberger staying as healthy as possible.

A strong return by Pouncey would also begin to soothe the doubts of those who believe he is not worth the five-year, $44 million contract he was awarded before the beginning of the 2014 season. The first year of his new contract was met with much success, but another season missed due to injury once again brought his durability into question.

A mildly successful season surfaced talk that Wallace was just as productive as a healthy Pouncey, but many seem to forget, or simply refuse to acknowledge, that the latter has been a Pro Bowl caliber center in every year that he has started multiple games in front of Roethlisberger.

Pouncey has returned in full force this offseason and, according to Josh Alper of NBC Sports, has taken every snap with the first team offense during OTAs (Organized Team Activities). This is promising news to hear after learning that Pouncey required multiple surgeries to get his leg back to one hundred percent.

Next: Steelers: Dupree, Roethlisberger, Thomas

Maurkice Pouncey‘s return as the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is vital for its continuous success in 2016 and beyond as the organization chases its seventh Lombardi trophy. He is in the perfect position to prove that he is among the top-tier centers in the league and to silence critics that believe he is not worthy of the long-term investment his team has made in him.