The knock on the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into this season was that they were too old to win a championship.
Their offensive line was banged up, receivers like Hines Ward were considered well past their primes and the defense had a slew of veterans that, if things didn’t go well, could easily be labeled from experienced to just plain old.
An opening week loss to the Ravens certainly didn’t help quell those rumors, as whispers of preseason concerns quickly became thunderous roars of desperation.
Yet here we are, halfway through the season, with the Steelers sitting atop the AFC at 6-2. Winners of four straight, Pittsburgh’s early-season problems appear to have been solved and while they’re still considered one of the older teams in the league, as the Washington Post notices, it’s been the emergence of younger players who have helped turn things around in Steel Town.
In just his third season, wide receiver Mike Wallace has become one of the elite pass catchers in the league and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s top target. Wallace is fourth in the league in receiving yards with 800 and sixth with 43 receptions. For his career, the former University of Mississippi receiver has tallied nearly 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Of course, with the boom of fantasy football and the fortune of playing a glamorous position, most are familiar with Wallace’s emergence. But along the offensive line, a unit that is in constant shuffle, another young player has been stepping up.
While veteran Max Starks, in his second stint with the Steelers, holds down the left tackle spot, rookie Marcus Gilbert has flourished at right tackle. The Steelers’ second-round draft pick in 2011, Gilbert has kept would-be sack artists in check. After surrendering four sacks to the Ravens in the opening week, Roethlisberger has been sacked only 11 times over the past four games, a significant improvement for the team’s weakest unit heading into the season.
Yet, despite the outstanding play of some of the younger faces on the roster, it’s the veterans like Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu who will decide if a second-straight Super Bowl appearance is in the works. But if the rookies and young players continue to excel, it’ll make the veterans’ jobs a whole lot easier.