It's been since 2000 that the Pittsburgh Steelers have sent so few players to the Pro Bowl—two this year, one 12 years ago—and, as is the case with many selections to NFL's all-star game, the voters got it wrong.
Selected as first-team starter at center is Maurkice Pouncey, while tight end Heath Miller is the No. 2 tight end behind the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. Despite Miller having torn his ACL and MCL in last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, making him unable to play in the game, that doesn't take away from the very real accomplishments he had this season that earned him the nod.
With 816 yards, Miller has the fourth-most yards of any tight end in the league, and his eight touchdowns tie him for the third-most scores of any player at his position. He's tied with Mike Wallace for the most receiving touchdowns among Steelers offensive players (who aren't Ben Roethlisberger) and has 41 first downs and zero fumbles.
However, the addition of Pouncey to the AFC's Pro Bowl roster is a head-scratcher. This is the third-straight Pro Bowl appearance for Pouncey, despite being outperformed at the position by the likes of his brother, Mike, who plays for the Miami Dolphins, Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns—who is a first alternate at the position—and Nick Mangold of the New York Jets.
Pouncey is Pro Football Focus' 14th-ranked center (in comparison, his brother ranks fifth, Mangold ranks eight and Mack 10th), having given up two quarterback sacks, a hit and seven hurries. Pouncey's inclusion for a third consecutive season is a perfect example of how name recognition can often trump on-field performance.
Instead, Pro Bowl votes would have been better spent on Steelers safety Ryan Clark. In fact, it's frankly shocking that no Steelers defender was even voted in as an alternate, but the biggest crime by far is that Clark was snubbed by the voters.
In a season that saw the Steelers lead the league in total defense and points allowed, all without the services of safety Troy Polamalu and linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley throughout most of it, Clark took on a leadership role and helped elevate what could have been a disastrous secondary.
His 93 total tackles were the third-most on the Steelers' roster and the seventh-most at his position. He allowed no touchdowns and just 71 yards after the catch. Quarterbacks throwing in his direction had just a 48.1 passer rating. He has two interceptions to his name—an impressive feat considering the trouble the Steelers have had generating turnovers this year—as well as two forced fumbles and one recovery.
Instead, Clark as passed over for Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed. Though Reed had four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and three forced fumbles, his combined 58 tackles doesn't come close to Clark's number. With but one spot for free safeties in the Pro Bowl (in contrast, each conference sends two strong safeties) Clark was left out thanks to a lack of name recognition and the numbers game. That doesn't make it any of a less unfair omission.
However, Pro Bowl voting and nominations are rarely fair, and the Steelers' pair of players help highlight this frequent complaint. With the kind of auspicious season the Steelers have had, it's impressive that they were able to field two Pro Bowlers—it just would have been better had it been someone other than Pouncey joining Miller in the ranks.