It’s not very surprising that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Sunday on the road to the Denver Broncos as they lost the turnover battle 4-0. While you can certainly point to other factors outside of turnover differential playing somewhat of a factor in Sunday’s loss, the fact that the Steelers gave away the football four times during the game while failing to take it away from the Broncos any will always remain the biggest reason as to why the team probably had a very quiet and long plane ride back to Pittsburgh. Head coach Mike Tomlin said as much again on Tuesday when he recapped his team’s Sunday loss to the Broncos at the start of his weekly press conference.
“Like I said after the game, I thought the significant element of play was the turnover ratio, but not only in this game, man, if you look back over the last eight quarters of football for us, as a football team it’s something that we’ve got to tighten up and tighten up rather quickly,” Tomlin said. “We’ve turned the ball over some on offense. We’ve got to do a better job of safeguarding and preserving it in everything that we do, whether it’s run or passing or are running with the football, et cetera.
“And on the defensive side of the ball, save the last snap of the game in Jacksonville, we’ve played eight quarters of football without creating a turnover. And I think that you can’t have one discussion without the other. Turning the ball over is less of an issue if you’re getting it. Not getting turnovers is less of an issue if you’re preserving and taking care of it. So, we’ve got issues in both areas and it’s created issues for us globally. We were fortunate to get out of Jacksonville, we talked about that and obviously we weren’t able to get out of Denver. So, we’ve got some work to do in that area.”
The Steelers enter Week 13 with a team turnover differential of -7 and that includes them registering just 12 takeaways in 11 games played. To expand on those lack of takeaways the defense has registered to date, of the 6 interceptions recorded so far this season, just two have come since the team’s Week 3 road win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sure, the fumble recovery against the Jacksonville Jaguars was nice, but that came on the last play of the game thanks to strip-sack by outside linebacker T.J. Watt and thus it’s understandable as to why Tomlin dismissed that on Tuesday.
Tomlin was asked during his Tuesday press conference to explain what he’s attempting to do to maybe help his defense start registering more turnovers moving forward into the team’s final five games of their regular season.
“You know, it starts first of all with just simply ball-awareness and we teach that and talk that probably more than anything,” Tomlin said. “Being aware of where the ball is located, who’s holding it, how they’re holding it and what they’re trying to do with it and how that relates to your assignments.
“And that’s just a general football 101 description of ball-awareness, but I think anytime you’re talking about getting the football from a defensive perspective, it starts there so everyone can relate to that. A defensive lineman can relate to that relative to his pass rush, a defensive back can relate to that relative to covering people and attempting to break up potential completions, et cetera. I think everyone can talk about and think about how ball awareness relates to the specific tasks that they have to do within any particular defensive call.”
While the ball-awareness focus certainly sounds good in theory, if Tomlin has indeed been preaching it all season, we’ve yet to see any consistent results on the field from it since the team’s win over the Buccaneers. In fact, three of the six takeaways registered by the team since Week 3 have come very late in games and with the Steelers in full command on the scoreboard at that. One of those three turnovers was even created by Steelers fullback Roosevelt Nix thanks to him forcing a fumble during a kickoff return late in the team’s Week 10 win over the Carolina Panthers.
“It’s very fundamental,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We always work in that area, but it’s a re-centering if you will, a point of emphasis and we’ll continue along those lines until we get the desired result. And to be quite honest with you, we better get the desired result very quickly because of the significant challenge that we have coming before us.”
That next significant challenge for the Steelers defense will be the offense of the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday night at Heinz Field. The Chargers enter Week 13 with a turnover margin of +4 and their offense has only turned the football 9 times with just 6 of those being interceptions thrown by quarterback Philip Rivers.
Tomlin was asked Tuesday if reemphasizing his defense to be more ball-aware moving forward comes with a risk of hurting the unit’s pass coverage or maybe even tackling efficiency
“Potentially, but you know, there’s a risk reward associated with everything that it is you do in football,” Tomlin said. “That’s just part of it. I feel completely comfortable asking professionals to have an increased emphasis in a certain area without worrying about our tackling going helter skelter, to be quite honest with you.”
In summation, the Steelers defense will be lucky to register just one turnover Sunday night against the Chargers so the team’s offense better do a great job of not giving away the football like they have in the team’s last two games. If they can’t accomplish that goal, the team will very likely suffer a second consecutive loss.