Losing the turnover battle in an NFL game makes it very difficult to win. The Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 are the rare team with a bad turnover differential but a good record, and they were able to add to that Sunday against the New England Patriots, of all teams, after giving up two interceptions and only getting one back.
The key, of course, to surviving a negative turnover differential is all about how your defense responds to the circumstances, and the Steelers’ defense responded very well against Tom Brady and his group. Safety Duron Harmon was able to intercept Ben Roethlisberger twice, but the Patriots got nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.
“I thought we responded to the turnovers very well, and played really good sudden-change football”, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier today during his pre-game press conference. “Obviously we stood up on a couple of short fields and made the necessary plays. I thought we were able to absorb some negativity early and find our rhythm”.
The Steelers’ biggest blemish on defense came very early on, allowing a long touchdown on the Patriots’ third offensive play of the game due to a miscommunication in coverage. Their ability to settle down after that was critical.
The Patriots’ first interception came midway through the second quarter on a Roethlisberger overthrown ball, New England taking over at their own 24. The defense responded by forcing a three-and-out.
Roethlisberger’s second interception came in the middle of the fourth quarter in a four-point game. The Patriots were able to drive, going from their own 41-yard line all the way down to the 15, but the defense was getting pressure throughout the drive and ultimately forced Brady into a bad throw that Joe Haden was able to intercept in the red zone.
New England was able to net a field goal off of a momentum swing when the Steelers’ Chris Boswell missed a field goal of his own, the closest thing that the Steelers allowed to a sudden-change let-up on the day.
As for Pittsburgh’s offense, they were able to take over from their own four-yard line after intercepting Brady and drive 66 yards down the field to New England’s 30, putting themselves in position for a long field goal attempt, which Boswell made.
So despite losing the turnover battle, the Steelers ended up with more points off of turnovers—and far fewer penalties—against a Bill Belichick team. Aside from actually not turning the ball over or getting more turnovers themselves, it’s hard to ask much more of this group.