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Injury to Maurkice Pouncey Makes Cody Wallace the Pittsburgh Steelers' Starting Center

Maurkice Pouncey

Maurkice Pouncey

Normally after a Pittsburgh Steelers game the five key points of the contest are reviewed here. But Sunday's 24-19 victory against the Green Bay Packers was notable not so much in that it was only Pittsburgh's second preseason victory in its last 11 exhibition games, or that it ended a four-game August losing streak.

It was notable because of the injury factor, namely that center Maurkice Pouncey could be lost for the season with a broken left ankle. Pouncey's injury wasn't the only one the Steelers suffered. Last year's second-round draft choice, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, also suffered a left ankle injury, and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, like Pouncey recently removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list, may be returning to inactivity after injuring his left hand.

The Packers also suffered potential season-defining injuries. Star wide receiver Jordy Nelson is out for the season after sustaining a serious right knee injury, while guard T.J. Lang suffered a concussion.

Calls to shorten or end the preseason will likely become more prevalent, and the standard Pittsburgh sense of panic has accompanied Pouncey's injury. He is, after all, a four-time Pro Bowler. But is it valid?

It's true Pouncey was injured and did not play in Super Bowl XLV or in the playoffs the following season. The Steelers lost to the Packers, 31-25, in the Super Bowl and to the Broncos, 29-23, in overtime in the Wild Card round of the 2011 playoffs.

Some have pointed to Pouncey's injury as a reason for the losses. But to blame these defeats on Doug Legursky is a bit much. Legursky did not allow the Howard Green hit of Ben Roethlisberger that resulted in Nick Collins' game-changing interception in the Super Bowl, nor did he cause the key fumble from Rashard Mendenhall in the third quarter.

In fact, despite playing catch-up for the entire game, the Steelers outrushed Green Bay, 126-50, and Green's hurry notwithstanding, Roethlisberger was only sacked once despite attempting 40 passes.

Against Denver, Isaac Redman ran for 66 yards on three carries through the middle of the line, and the Steelers outrushed the Broncos, 156-131. While Roethlisberger was sacked five times, one has to wonder if this is because of Legursky's blocking calls or a bum ankle suffered the previous month by Big Ben in a 14-3 victory against Cleveland. Two weeks before the playoff loss, Legursky had started at center against the Rams along with backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who was not sacked once.

Others pointed to the fact the Steelers started the 2013 season 0-4 after Pouncey was lost for the season in Week 1. But the final record of 8-8 was the same as the season before, and one has to wonder if this poor start was solely the result of Pouncey's right ACL and MCL injury or a continuation of the team's demise that saw them lose five of its last seven games in 2012 and all four preseason games in ‘13.

The man who will step in for Pouncey this season is Cody Wallace. The journeyman lineman, 30, played in 15 games last season and actually started the final four games of the 2013 season after Fernando Velasco, signed to replace Pouncey, was injured and lost for the season in the 12th game of the year. For the record, the Steelers allowed only three sacks in their final three games that year behind Wallace, all victories, after allowing 40 sacks in the previous 13 games.

While the running game averaged roughly four yards a rush in two games with Wallace as the starting center, the Steelers gained less than three in a frigid 30-20 victory against the Bengals in their 14th game, and more than five per carry in a 38-31 victory at Green Bay the following week.

Wallace played college football at Texas A&M and was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round in 2008. The Steelers are the sixth organization he's been with, but they thought enough of Wallace to give him a three-year contract in 2014. Now he’ll have a chance to earn his paycheck, as the trigger man for what should be one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.