If you’ve been following this site for a while now, then you are probably aware of the Toxic Differential and the correlation that exists between a positive differential and a win. To briefly recap, the Toxic Differential combined the number of explosive plays with the number of turnovers and churns out a single number comparing one team versus its opponent.
With a high degree of accuracy, teams who post a +2 or better Toxic Differential tend to win those games, which means that that had at least two more explosive plays and/or turnovers. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been an explosive offense for years now, but have been filling out the rest of the equation recently.
A big component of that is obviously the turnovers, and their turnover ratio has been slowly improving for years now, with too many produced on offense and too few on defense. From the excellent 2017 season in which they posted a +17 turnover differential, there was a precipitous and immediate decline.
The very next season, in 2011, Pittsburgh posted a strikingly poor -13 turnover differential, which was a full 30 turnovers worse than the season before, in terms of takeaways and giveaways.
The next season was not much better but still a modest improvement to a -10 turnover differential as they discovered that they could no longer draw takeaways on defense. This trend proved true for a few years as the offense began to secure the ball better, improving the turnover ratio to just -4 by 2013.
By 2014, the Steelers finally struck even, posting a neutral turnover differential, recording as many takeaways as they had given the ball away, and 2015 at long last finally saw them in the green for the first time since 2010, posting a +2 differential.
Last season, Pittsburgh continued the upward hike with a +5 turnover differential, and that was even amidst a season in which Ben Roethlisberger was not at his best with ball security. They threw 15 interceptions on offense while getting just 13 on defense, but they made up the difference in fumbles, forcing 16 while allowing only nine. They gained seven more than they lost, including on special teams.
So the obvious question that this has all been building to is this: will the Steelers continue to see this trend emerge into the 2017 season? Are they finally due to post a strongly positive turnover differential in 2017 for the first time since 2010? While +5 is decent, it is not a difference-making statistic.
The Steelers would seem to have added some players in the secondary who are more likely to take the ball away, and they have some pass rushers on board who are working on the chop. Some, like Ryan Shazier, seem to have a penchant for forcing fumbles.
Roethlisberger also has more talent around him this year, which, combined with strong protection, will ideally shrink his interception numbers from a year ago. They should, in my opinion, be capable of posting a positive ratio in the double digits.