One of the areas in which the Pittsburgh Steelers would like to see a big step forward in 2018 is in not just turnover production, but also turnover differential, a statistic that incorporates both sides of the ball. Last season, the defense took away a few more passes, but the offense also gave up a few more.
The coaching staff is working on both sides of the ball to better control the turnover margin, and there was some positive indication from the preseason opener on Thursday against the Eagles. While Joshua Dobbs threw one interception, the Steelers intercepted two passes of their own and also recovered a fumble for a plus-two turnover differential.
“Ball security and ball searching” is something that Head Coach Mike Tomlin praised his team for in the game following Saturday’s practice session. “We did a better job of taking care of the ball than our opponent, and that helped us”.
The interceptions came courtesy of veteran cornerback Coty Sensabaugh and second-year Cameron Sutton. Sutton missed most of his rookie season a year ago, including the preseason, but is expected to have a significant role in 2018 as a sub-package participant.
With changes in personnel, coaching, and philosophy, the Steelers are hopeful that they can get more eyes, and make more breaks, on the football this year from the secondary, and Tomlin hopes that the results of Thursday’s game are an indicator of positive development from the work they have been doing so far in training camp in that regard.
“You’d like to think so, but sometimes it’s just opponent negligence”, he said when asked if he thought the turnovers traced back to what they’ve been doing in Latrobe. “The big thing is that you put yourself in position to be opportunistic, and that’s what we’re doing with the work out here. You put a focus on something, you put yourself in a position to be opportunistic, and when it happens you feel good about it”.
One area in particular in which there is hope to see improvement is in the turnover production from the two starting outside cornerbacks. Between Artie Burns and Joe Haden last season, they combined for just two interceptions. Burns had three of his own as a rookie, and Haden has made Pro Bowls before, so they know that the potential is there for bigger numbers than we saw in 2017.
Will the tweaks to the scheme help put them and the rest of the secondary in better positions this season to make those interceptions that have been too often lacking in recent years? That’s a question we’ll be finding out the answer to as the regular season develops.