Kevin Gorman: Steelers need B.J. Finney to have Maurkice Pouncey’s back for next 3 games
Losing Maurkice Pouncey to a three-game suspension is the last thing the Pittsburgh Steelers needed, especially with their injury-plagued offense in shambles.
The Steelers are down to backups at quarterback, running back and receiver, so subtracting a seven-time Pro Bowl and five-time All-Pro center from the lineup is disheartening, to say the least.
It’s enough to make you worry about whether they can beat the winless Cincinnati Bengals.
Never has Pouncey been held in higher regard with the Steelers, where he is annually voted a team captain and recognized as the most respected leader inside the locker room at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side.
Mason Rudolph called Pouncey “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had” multiple times Wednesday, first when reading a statement about the melee with Myles Garrett in Cleveland and later when answering questions about the brawl with the Browns last Thursday night. Rudolph later called Pouncey “a guy you want on your team.”
“He has your back. He’s got everybody’s back on this team,” Rudolph said. “I put him in a bad spot. We’re looking to get him back as soon as possible, whenever that is.”
After reading a statement, Steelers QB Mason Rudolph answers questions about his role in the melee with Myles Garrett and the Cleveland Browns. pic.twitter.com/9haB6hYUAD
— Kevin Gorman (@KGorman_Trib) November 20, 2019
Rushing to Rudolph’s rescue after Garrett hit him with a helmet made Pouncey a cult hero in Pittsburgh, the epitome of a teammate who was willing to beat up the bully. Where David DeCastro and Matt Feiler tried to play peacemaker, Steelers fans love that Pouncey didn’t hesitate to throw haymakers.
Retaliating by swinging at Garrett and kicking him in the helmet, however, got Pouncey punished at a time when the Steelers could afford to lose a leader least.
The NFL heard Pouncey’s appeal Tuesday, but a reduction doesn’t look promising after Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi’s one-game suspension was upheld Wednesday.
But there is no position the Steelers are better equipped to replace a starter. B.J. Finney might be the team’s most valuable backup, with 10 starts (eight at guard, two at center) in four seasons and a 9-1 record in those games.
Finney is no Pouncey, but the drop-off isn’t devastating.
“Having guys come in here and get their first kind of reps in games is tough, especially in this league,” said DeCastro, a four-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro right guard. “To have a guy who has played a lot of ball is huge, and he’ll be solid in there.”
Finney already has a rapport with Rudolph, from two years of taking reps with the backups, so timing shouldn’t be an issue. And if there was a knock on Pouncey, it’s that he had bad snaps in each of the past two games — a high one against the Los Angeles Rams and a low one against the Browns — and the Steelers have struggled in short-yardage situations all season.
Another advantage is Finney has spent the past four seasons heeding the edict of former Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak to prepare like a starter, despite being a backup, at all three positions on the interior line. So, Finney is ready.
“It’s my job to step in, to plug and play,” Finney said. “The older guys have done a great job of preparing me to play whenever, wherever. It’s a testament to them.”
And it’s a testament to Finney that the Steelers offensive linemen consider him their sixth starter. He replaced Ramon Foster at left guard against the Indianapolis Colts but took it in stride when the Steelers opted to move Matt Feiler there from right tackle against Aaron Donald and the Rams a week later.
This could mark the first time Finney starts over a three-game stretch in his career. When he replaced Pouncey in the season opener at New England, it resulted in the snap-count snafu that saw the rest of the offensive line draw a flag for a false start.
Finney can laugh about how that play that became a punch line, saying someone sent him a montage of similar plays on social media to show that it happens more than people realize.
“I just laugh. It’s unfortunate but you’ve got to move on,” Finney said. “You want to do well and prepare all you can. If memes get made, memes get made. You just try to do your best. That one’s out of the way. We’re good.”
The Steelers should be good at center with Finney, just not as good as they were with Pouncey. That seems to be the story of this season, one that has become all about backup plans.
Now, it’s up to Finney to have Pouncey’s back.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .