Injuries in professional sports happen, but the recent string of bad injury luck that has plagued the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past two seasons seems almost unfair.
Bud Dupree and Senquez Golson, Pittsburgh's first- and second-round draft picks in 2015, are both set to miss significant game action in 2016. Javon Hargrave, a third-round pick in 2016 and presumptive starter at nose tackle, could ultimately join Golson and Dupree on the sidelines, depending on the severity of a knee injury that he reportedly suffered during Monday's practice session.
For most teams, the loss of three key defensive players would be devastating. Fortunately, the Steelers have proven that they have the capacity to deal with injuries. In fact, the only thing that would assuredly sink Pittsburgh's season is an injury that forces QB Ben Roethlisberger to miss a substantial portion of the regular season. However, the Steelers posted a 2-2 record in the four games that Roethlisberger missed last season, including a 25-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, a team that many pundits considered to be the best in the NFL.
Last season, the Steelers played five games without Martavis Bryant, 10 games without Le'Veon Bell, four games without Ryan Shazier, and two games without Stephon Tuitt. As a result, the Steelers posted a 10-6 record and came within a fumble of advancing to the AFC Championship game. It's also prudent to point out that the aforementioned fumble came in a game against the eventual Super Bowl champions in which Antonio Brown did not play.
The defensive losses will certainly hurt the Steelers, especially since Golson and Dupree put in a ton of work during the offseason and appeared to be in line for larger roles. However, Golson was unlikely to be listed any higher than third on the depth chart, while Dupree was still in line to split snaps with Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo. The Steelers ranked 30th in the league in pass defense last season; Golson wasn't going to transform them into the Denver Broncos overnight. On the other hand, the Steelers ranked 3rd in the NFL with 48 sacks last season, only four of which Dupree contributed.
In other words, I shouldn't be too hard to find short-term replacements for Dupree and Golson (the Steelers already have for the latter player, in fact, as they traded a draft pick for former Browns CB Justin Gilbert).
The impact of Pittsburgh's early injuries is further minimized by the fact that their offense is so darn good. As long as the Steelers defense holds its opponents to under 25 points per game (which, given the output of Pittsburgh's foes last season, is certainly attainable), they should be in a position to win every week.