By Jeremy Hritz
On July 3rd, ESPN had an article titled “Turnovers were a team problem for Steelers” in which the author made a quick analysis of the Steelers turnover struggles from last season.
The defense took the ball away 20 times, which was the eighth fewest in the NFL. Turnovers, though, was as much of a problem on offense as on defense and ultimately kept the Steelers out of the playoffs last season. When the Steelers jumped out to a 6-3 start, they turned the ball over nine times. During a 2-5 finish, Pittsburgh gave up the ball 21 times.
This has been a topic that has been discussed in depth this offseason, but it is a central one that must be addressed if the Steelers are to resurrect the habit of winning. The defense has struggled the past two seasons to create turnovers, which in turn impacted the number of scoring opportunities. Combine that with an offense that was careless with the football, and it is surprising that the outcome was only 8-8.
Can the Steelers improve in the turnover department next season? They can, but improvement will be dependent on how certain players and units perform.
On defense, interceptions and fumbles will start with the pressure that the outside linebackers can generate on the quarterback. While LaMarr Woodley struggled in 2012, he has a track record of being able to hurry the quarterback, and if he is healthy and in shape, he can be expected to return to form. Opposite Woodley is the biggest question mark, whether it is Jason Worilds or Jarvis Jones. While we have seen some flashes from Worilds in regular season action, it is unclear how Jones will translate to the professional game. Even if Jones does not start, he may get some snaps on third downs as an extra rusher. If the outside linebackers prove themselves to be a force to be accounted for, it will create chaos in the backfield, resulting in forced throws and shaky exchanges, which will boost their overall turnover count.
In the secondary, Ike Taylor hasn’t shown anything over his career to make anyone believe that his interception total will be increasing anytime soon. In fact, in an interview this offseason, he acknowledged that picks are just not a part of his game. If the pass rush improves, the secondary will have several opportunities to make interceptions, and the most exciting story to be told in the secondary is about the type of impact Cortez Allen will have. Allen enjoyed a turnover surge at the end of last season, and the hope is that he can produce in a similar fashion throughout 2013. If Allen demonstrates that he has exceptional ball skills, he could be the playmaker the Steelers have been looking for at the cornerback position. Throw in a healthy Troy Polamalu, and the secondary could be just as good in the turnover department as they are in overall pass defense.
On offense, comfort and familiarity with Todd Haley’s system should help to eliminate some of the turnover issues from last season. The growing pains from the confusion from the Rosetta Stone and its difficult terminology should pay off this year as players can focus on their execution of their assignment instead of worrying about what their assignment actually is from play to play. The result should be an offense that operates smoothly and that has better ball security.