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: Which loss will be bigger against the Bengals: Stephon Tuitt or Marcus Gilbert?
The Steelers have already ruled out Stephon Tuitt, and have listed Marcus Gilbert as doubtful, which means…well, that he is doubtful to play. Both of them are absences that they have previously dealt with. But that doesn’t mean that either of them are minor.
But which absence will be more consequential, situationally and matchup-wise, doing up specifically against the Bengals? Defensively, Gilbert would have been responsible for battling against the stalwart Carlos Dunlap, who despite having just one sack is always a pass-rush threat, and is a strong run defender.
While the Steelers are able to run their offense with Chris Hubbard in the game, and have done so in six different starts the past two years—in addition to large parts of three others—the reserve has understandably had some problems going up against some of the better right-side defenders.
On the opposite side of the ball, Tuitt would be going up against a piecemeal offensive line that is already rotating players at the right tackle position in an unsettled role. Having their thoroughbred disruptor in there would have been a major luxury, especially against a run defense that has struggled to get going.
Tyson Alualu has been adequate against the run, but offered very little as a pass rusher. If Tuitt’s absence leads to a greater role for Javon Hargrave, then perhaps I would lean toward Gilbert being the bigger absence; otherwise, I might be more inclined to side with Tuitt’s absence as the harder pill to swallow.
The Steelers, either way, are fortunate to have adequate depth at both positions, offering at least replacement-level play, which frankly a lot of teams cannot say. It just sucks when you don’t have some of your best players out there playing at their best.