The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will the defense’s late-season turnover trend continue into the new year?
As much as the rushing efforts of the offense served as an important catalyst for the Steelers’ seven-game winning streak that ended the regular season and earned them the third seed in the playoffs, it may well have been the settling down of the defense in the second half of the season and their ability to get to the loose balls and pick them off that was the biggest change as both sides of the ball began to complement one another.
The Steelers produced 22 turnovers on the year, with 12 of them coming in the final seven games, meaning that they only recorded 10 in the first nine, a rate of 1.1 per game, which would round up to 18 takeaways on the season.
In contrast, the 12 takeaways in the final seven games represented a rate of 1.7 per game, and would have equated to at least 27 takeaways if prorated over the course of an entire regular season. That number would have ranked near the top of the league for last season.
So the question is, was the defense just particularly successful during that time period, or have they actually demonstrated legitimate, tangible improvement that will facilitate a greater frequency of turnovers than were seen in the first half of the season?
No doubt the answer to the question involves a little from column A and a little from column B. The introduction of a couple of rookies on the secondary who have ball skills contributed four of the nine interceptions that they had in the final seven games, as one way of illustrating that point.
Of course, takeaways are often a product of circumstances, and tend to come in situations in which the offense is pressing, either because they are trailing significantly or late in the game, or because the defense forced them into a particularly unfavorable position. Whether or not the Steelers have improved in that part of the equation is largely yet to be determined, I think.