My, what a difference a year could make. At this time a season ago, we were talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ emerging defensive turnaround after they led the lead with a franchise-best 56 sacks, and they were also in the top half of the least with 22 takeaways, including 16 interceptions, the 11th-most in the NFL.
This year, the Steelers finished tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, so it was fine on that front—in fact, the pass rush was actually much more consistent—but they only managed 15 takeaways, fewer than one per game.
That was tied for the third-fewest in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers. The Detroit Lions had 14, while the San Francisco 49ers stunningly had just seven. It’s worth noting that arguably the best defense in the league, the Baltimore Ravens, only forced 17 turnovers, and six of them came in the last two games, so they had just 11 heading into Week 15. Imagine if that were the Steelers (they had just one takeaway in the final two games).
While president Art Rooney II obviously wants that number to improve significantly in 2019, at least returning to the level of the previous season, he didn’t seem all that worried about it, principally because he believes that is an issue that is correctable.
“I think that can be addressed”, he told reporters when he spoke to them earlier this week for his annual group interview session. “Number one, on defense we just have to be aggressive in taking the ball away and finding players who can do that”.
Ryan Shazier was the last player the Steelers had who was able to produce turnover opportunities in bunches, but we know where that situation resides. Sean Davis looked like he could develop after having three interceptions and a forced fumble in 2017. Joe Haden had two interceptions this past year.
As we’ve broken down here in the past, this team also dropped about a dozen and a half interceptions, which goes above and beyond the norm. so much of it is just a matter of seizing the opportunities that present themselves.
“I think that’s something you can improve, and we need to do that”, Rooney summarized regarding the need to create more turnovers on defense. “On the offensive side, ball security is something that we talk about a lot. We had some key fumbles and key interceptions at bad times, and those things lead to losing games, so those are areas where we can improve, among others”.
The offense produced 26 giveaways, and the Steelers’ minus-11 turnover differential was among the worst in the league—yet somehow they scored as many points off of their 15 takeaways as their opponents did on their 26 giveaways, so things could have been a lot worse.