Head coaches, namely Mike Tomlin, don't throw out phrases such as "potentially significant" to describe an injury unless there's a great likelihood that it will indeed be that. Indeed, our worst fears were confirmed when it was announced earlier today that Shaun Suisham is out for the 2015 season, an obstacle nobody consciously thought the team would have to navigate around and overcome during the upcoming 2015 regular season.
In a league where the top 26 kickers converted no worse than 80 percent of their chances in 2014 and where the NFL has grown so weary of the automatic nature of an extra point it's turned it into a 33-yard attempt in 2015, one might look at a season-ending injury to Suisham as not that big of a deal. After all, Suisham came to Pittsburgh in mid-2010 without a job and with the reputation as a choke artist and soon became one of the most dependable kickers in team history. Same held true for the player Suisham replaced five seasons ago--Jeff Reed (ironically enough, Reed was in attendance at Tom Benson Stadium Sunday night and was escorted away for causing some sort of disturbance)-- who became a Steeler midway through the 2002 season after winning a tryout at Heinz Field and went on to convert nearly 82 percent of his field goals during his nine years wearing the black and gold.
However, while the top 26 kickers did no worse than 80 percent in 2014, the top six kickers converted at least 90.6 percent of their field goals--Suisham finished tied for fifth in the league with that percentage. Dating backing to the 2012 season, Suisham has converted 91.5 percent of his field goals and, while he's struggled a bit from 50-plus yards away (3 of 8), he's made a remarkable 30 straight between 40-49 yards. Kicking half of his games at the notoriously difficult Heinz Field, that's saying a heck of a lot.
The Steelers will obviously need to audition for and sign a new kicker. When you consider that the supply far outweighs the demand when it comes to place kickers, whoever wins the job should be decent enough. However, chances are, next summer, when someone researches the most accurate field goal kickers of 2015, the new guy will surely be closer to 80 percent than he will be to 90.6 percent.
In a super-competitive and balanced league such as the NFL, that could mean the difference between 10-6 and 12-4 for the Steelers this season.
It's easy to scoff at coaches for not playing their stars during preseason games (Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Le'Veon Bell didn't see the field or their shoulder pads Sunday night), but who can really blame them?
There's a huge difference between 80 percent and 90.6 percent, and the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers may soon find that out.