The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. One of the biggest issues the Steelers currently face on the defensive side of the ball is how to generate more turnovers, which is a department in which the team has been lacking over the past four seasons.
Interestingly, however, the team did generate five touchdowns via turnover a year ago, which is—at least I suspect—slightly above average. It started with a muffed punt recovered in the end zone. Brice McCain recorded a pick six to put away a game in Jacksonville, and William Gay brought three balls back to the house on interceptions by himself.
But from a broader point of view, the fact of the matter is that the team was not, and has not been, successful or consistent in generating turnovers, and it has put their offense at a disadvantage by not providing them many short fields.
Aside from McCain (who had two other interceptions) and Gay, Cortez Allen contributed two interceptions, while Jason Worilds, Brett Keisel, and Antwon Blake each had one. As a team—including special teams—the Steelers only forced 12 fumbles on the year, and certainly did not recover all of them.
The Steelers felt that they tried in part to address this problem by adding Mike Mitchell in the secondary, who last season recorded four interceptions and forced a couple of fumbles, but in his first season with the team, he failed to intercept a pass. He did force two fumbles, which tied for the team lead.
He and others, however, were supposed to contribute to the turnovers by creating pressure on the quarterback. Mitchell showed off blitzing ability while in Carolina. Additionally, the drafting of Ryan Shazier and his speed was believed to add another dimension, along with Lawrence Timmons, of pressure up the middle, but that didn’t come to fruition either.
The Steelers’ two biggest interests this offseason are in improving the cornerback and outside linebacker positions, which are perhaps the two positions most essential in creating turnovers. The pass rushers induce poor passes from the quarterbacks, and the corners pick off those errant throws.
But the Steelers are unlikely to be in the market for the highest tier of free agents at either position, so perhaps the most pertinent question will be how much production they can get out of the rookies that they draft at these positions.