Since the Jacksonville Jaguars game, during which the Pittsburgh Steelers tossed five interceptions while only getting a single takeaway back, the team had been in the negative in terms of their turnover differential.
This had been a statistic trending in a positive direction for the past several years, with the Steelers finally breaking even with respect to the turnover margin in 2014. By 2015, they finished with a marginal surplus of two more takeaways than giveaways, and last season, at long last, produced a meaningful advantage of five more robberies.
It is not a coincidence that there has been at least a modest correlation with the team doing better overall. They made the playoffs again in 2014, won their first playoff game since 2010 in 2015, and then made it to a game shy of the Super Bowl last year, and ball security measured with splash plays on defense is a part of the ability to find that success.
It took a big day of splash plays on their own to get back into the black in this category, as after Thursday’s four interceptions—courtesy of Mike Hilton, Coty Sensabaugh, Sean Davis, and Robert Golden, all out of the secondary—they now have a plus-three turnover differential, a long way to the low of minus-13 that they posted in 2011.
But it’s also a far cry from the heydays of the mid-to-late 2000s. As recently as 2010, the last time they reached the Super Bowl, they posted a turnover differential of 17, which is stellar, meaning that they averaged roughly one more takeaway than giveaway per game. Having the edge in the turnover battle in every game is incredible.
Granted, that 17 is quite an outlier, even for them. They only had two other seasons in the double digits in the past couple of decades. But it’s good that they have gotten back on track. Their four interceptions in one game, of course, is the most they have had in several years.
They have been beginning to pick off passes. Their 12 interceptions actually ranks second in the league at the moment. Ryan Shazier leads the team with three, while Hilton also has two, but Davis, Sensabaugh, Golden, Joe Haden, William Gay, T.J. Watt, and J.J. Wilcox also have one. That is, by the way, seven different players in the secondary with a pick, and none of them are Artie Burns or Mike Mitchell, oddly.
Yet where they have been slipping, or at least where the ball has not been bouncing their way, has been in the territory of fumbles. They have only recovered four fumbles this year in spite of the fact that they have produced 13, which is among the worst forced-fumble-to-caused-fumble ratios in the league.
Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 10 interceptions, though just three in his past five games, and Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Eli Rogers (on special teams) have each lost a fumble. The 16-13 differential overall gives them a three-turnover edge through 10 games.