What to make of the 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers? Firstly, as Mike Tomlin once famously noted during the team's run to the 2008 Super Bowl, 'throw style points out the window'. Unlike college football, a win is a win, and you're neither docked nor rewarded for winning ugly or winning big. That said, it's hard not to be at least mildly concerned by the play of the Steelers through six weeks - specifically the turnovers from Ben Roethlisberger, and the inconsistent and at times awful play of the offensive line.
In 2010, the Steelers were able to overcome a bevy of injuries to the line. Willie Colon was lost for the year in July with an Achilles injury, Max Starks was placed on injured reserve at midseason, both guard positions saw turnover throughout the year due to injury. Yet somehow the team was able to overcome long odds and advance to the Super Bowl with a makeshift line that really had no business playing as well as it did down the stretch.
In 2011, many fans felt the line would take some big steps forward. Alas, injuries have once again reared their ugly head across the line. Colon again was lost for the season and placed on IR; then in Week 3 during the Steelers' 23-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts, three starters suffered minor but not insignificant injuries. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert injured his shoulder in the second half, but had no choice but to return to action after Jonathan Scott limped off the field with a painful sprained ankle. At guard, Doug Legursky also injured his shoulder, though it appears as if his is more serious than Gilbert's, according to Mike Tomlin.
"Marcus Gilbert looks like he s going to be okay from his shoulder injury," said Tomlin. "We anticipate him practicing and playing."
"Doug Legursky can be categorized as questionable with his shoulder," said Tomlin. "The same thing can be said about Jonathan Scott with his left ankle sprain. Again their availability will be determined by their ability to practice this week."
In his Tuesday press conference, Tomlin fielded questions about the possibility of bringing in an offensive lineman in the wake of the rash of injuries:
"In regards to some of the offensive line things we are open to looking at bringing someone in," said Tomlin. "We haven’t had any definitive plans yet. We are going to let the participation of these men dictate what we do in that area."
For those of you hoping to see Scott replaced at left tackle after his poor showing against Dwight Freeney, it sounds like you may not get your wish just yet. That's not to say that Scott sounds like a safe bet to play Sunday afternoon in Houston. I'd imagine that Marcus Gilbert will get the start at left tackle, with the veteran Trai Essex starting at right tackle. If that's the case, Gilbert's play at the all-important LT position could go a long ways towards determining what Sean Kugler and Tomlin decide to do moving forward.
As frustrating as Sunday night's win was at times, it's important to remember just how dynamic a 17-week NFL regular season is. The Steelers have battled through serious injuries to their offensive line before and gone on to achieve great success. Doing so again in 2011 may prove too tall an order, but don't give up hope just yet. There's too much talent everywhere else on the roster to think that Pittsburgh can't find a way to adjust in-season and again hit their stride come December and January thanks to a more cohesive and competent offensive line.
Let's sure hope so.