It is as unsurprising as it is true that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense was at its best when it was accumulating a good number of turnovers. This has not been the case over the course of the past few seasons as we have season a general downward trajectory in defensive performance.
But on the bright side, there has equally been a downward trajectory on the offensive side of the ball as well—and by that I mean, of course, that they have also been turning the ball over less, which is equally as important as turning the ball over on defense.
Ball security is paramount in a league in which the outcomes of so many games are determined by who wins the battle of the turnover margin. So while the defense has made little if any headway in recent years in taking more takeaways, the offense’s improve efficiency has led to an improvement in the team’s turnover ratio as a whole, with a corresponding improvement in their overall record.
Going back to the 2011 season, the Steelers’ relative success proved to be quite an anomaly that foretold the imminent decline that we saw over the course of the next two seasons. Pittsburgh finished with an abysmal -13 turnover ratio despite going 12-4.
The following season, they posted a turnover ratio of -10, and had the accompanying 8-8 record to show for it, which in reality is probably still better than would be anticipated from that statistic. They only threw 14 interceptions, but they only got 10 back, for example.
In 2013, following historic ineptitude to start the season, the Steelers ended the year on an upward trajectory, managing to bring their turnover ratio up to just -4, but the hole that they dug themselves was too deep to get past a 8-8 finish.
Last year, the team finally managed to break even, and that has far more to do with the ball security of the offense than any tangible improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger threw just nine interceptions, while Le’Veon Bell never put the ball on the ground. in the end, they finished with a neutral turnover ratio en route to an 11-5 record and a division title.
It’s hard to imagine the offense getting more efficient—perhaps Roethlisberger can avoid an extra strip sack or two—but I do expect the Steelers to post their first positive turnover margin since their Super Bowl appearance in 2010.
After a few years of reshaping, the defensive side of the ball finally seems to be beginning to take shape, with an aggressive defensive line intact and a deep group of linebackers who are only growing more comfortable with each other and their assignments.
Mike Mitchell has the potential to produce splash plays, as he did before signing with the Steelers, and I expect to see some of that this year. After all, the Steelers got zero interceptions from their safeties last year, which is certainly a rarity.
Stability and familiarity should breed a higher quality product on the field, and with it an uptick in the production of turnovers, especially if any of their sure-handed rookie defensive backs managed to get on the field.