The Pittsburgh Steelers went 11-5 and won the AFC North a season ago, but their odds of repeating as division champs took a significant blow Sunday, as center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a left-ankle injury in Pittsburgh’s 24-19 preseason win over Green Bay.

Pouncey will need surgery on the ankle and could miss half the season or more.

“Pouncey is special in that he pulls and he gets out to that second level to the linebackers to block – and they’re not going to be able to do that as much anymore,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers writer Ed Bouchette said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “There’s a reason he’s a two-time All Pro and four-time Pro Bowler.”

Cody Wallace, a former fourth-rounder out of Texas A&M, will replace Pouncey in the starting lineup.

“They like him as a backup; now he’s got to start,” Bouchette said. “The rest of their line, that was kind of one of the storylines going in that their line remained relatively intact last year for the fist time in a long time and they had everybody back. Well, now they lose Pouncey for what appears to be at least half a season. It may affect their running game a little bit. I don’t know about the protection as much, but certainly the running game.”

The Steelers, who finished seventh in the league in scoring last season (27.3 points), figured to be one of the top offenses in football this year – one that Ben Roethlisberger said could average 30 points a game.

How much does Pouncey’s injury affect that?

“I don’t know if we’re talking about a big reduction in that type of ability from them,” Bouchette said. “They lost a blocker. They lose their best one, but they think they can overcome that, and they do have Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. They have the receivers and Heath Miller. They really do have an excellent offense – one of the best they’ve ever had.”

They’ll definitely need it against the schedule they face, especially early in the season. The Steelers open against the Patriots in Foxboro, host San Francisco and then play at St. Louis, against Baltimore, at San Diego, against Arizona, at Kansas City and against Cincinnati.

“They had one of the easiest schedules last year based on wins and losses, and (they have) one of the toughest this year,” Bouchette said. “So having won the division, they add the Patriots. They could get lucky with the Patriots. If the Tom Brady suspension stands up, they won’t have to face them – and he has had their number through the years, especially up there in New England. They’ve never beaten him up there. And then they have San Francisco at home and they move on. It’s a process of who knows what’s going to happen to some other teams. They might be down when they play them. This team, they won a division last year (despite) losing to Tampa Bay at home and at the New York Jets, which seems almost an impossibility, but they did.”


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