The Pittsburgh Steelers have not won a playoff game since the 2010 season. In that year, in fact, they advanced all the way to the Super Bowl, though they ultimately lost.
Part of the success of that 2010 run was the fact that the team was in sync on one key area: turnovers. The offense kept the giveaways to a minimum, while the defense stockpiled them. The offense threw nine interceptions, and fumbled 14 times, while the defense picked off 21 passes and forced 24 fumbles.
It all translated to an absolutely spectacular +17 turnover differential, fed to a team that scored 41 total touchdowns, including four on returns and on defense, while allowing only 22, with two on returns and on defense.
Since that season, however, it went downhill dramatically, in spite of the fact that the team matched its 12-4 record in 2011 and tied for the division lead with the Ravens, losing the division race via tiebreaker.
The issue? Wholesale decline on the defensive side of the ball drastically reduced the number of takeaways. They intercepted just 10 passes, forcing 10 fumbles, while the offense threw 15 interceptions and fumbled 14 times.
In spite of their strong 12-4 record, the Steelers’ abysmal -13 turnover differential—a 30-turnover swing from one year to the next—told the true story of the one-and-done playoff run for the defending AFC champions.
Since then, things have gotten incrementally better, though they were dragged through hell to do it. The Steelers finished with a -10 turnover differential, most of which came during a 2-5 stretch to end the season at 8-8.
The following year, a dismal 2-6 start gave way to a very successful 6-2 run to finish off the season, and the team came close to the tipping point in turnovers, finishing with a differential of just -4.
The key in those two seasons had not been a resurgent defense, but rather an offense, under Todd Haley, that was increasingly focused on protecting the ball. This transition finally hit the even scale in 2014.
Last year, the Steelers reached a 0 turnover differential, a massive improvement from the -13 of a few years earlier. And it was, again, on the offense doing a more diligent job of protecting the ball. With just 10 interceptions and 12 fumbles, the break even point had finally been reached.
In 2015, the defense is finally meeting the offense halfway, having been able to locate the football with greater frequency through 10 games. With 10 forced fumbles and nine interceptions, things are looking up.
The offense has so far thrown 10 interceptions, but has fumbled just five times. So far, the Steelers are in the green with a +5 turnover differential. It’s taken five years, but the team is finally back on the right side of one of the most indicative performance indicators in the game.
The team’s ability to protect the ball on offense while continuing to find it in moderation on defense goes a long way toward explaining how the Steelers have been able to weather the storm through a myriad of injuries to stand here as one of four AFC teams with a winning record.