It’s hard to argue with T.J. Watt’s statement. Sitting down for a year-in-review interview with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews, Watt said while the defense had its moments, they’ll be remembered for the lack of turnovers they failed to create.
“Just the turnover aspect is the number one thing that comes to mind. I think we’ll be tied to the 2018 Steelers that we weren’t able to get as many turnovers as I would’ve liked.”
That’s an understatement if there ever was one. Pittsburgh finished the year tied for 29th in takeaways with just 15, one of only four teams to average fewer than one per game. Four of those came in one game, the Week 3 win over Tampa Bay, meaning they created just 11 in the other 15 games.
The 15 they forced is tied for the fewest in franchise history, standing alongside 2011, and only times they’ve finished a season under the 20 turnover mark. The lack of turnovers though are a disturbing trend. Their bottom eight seasons of takeaways have all come in the Mike Tomlin era: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
Some of that can be attributed to offenses becoming more crisp, playing cleaner, and rules that are almost always advantageous to quarterbacks. But still. it’s an alarming trend.
That, in part, led to the Steelers tied for the league worse in average starting field position, beginning on their own 26 yard line. It made life that much tougher on the offense and though that side of the ball still impressed, probably left some points on the board.
It also created one of Pittsburgh’s biggest problems this year: closing out games. Their lack of turnovers, even with the lead, even in obvious pass situations, made it difficult to get that much-needed stop to swing momentum or make the final play of the game.
Echoing what he told ESPN last week, Watt said coming to grips with the season abruptly ending has been tough to do.
“It’s been hard to get a lot of great sleep lately. We know we have the talent. We have everything we need to be a Super Bowl contender, to be a Super Bowl team. To not be able to get it done consistently throughout the year is really frustrating. Just to know the fans aren’t necessarily going to understand everything, and we don’t either. We don’t know why this is happening. It’s not like we’re not trying. We just couldn’t get it done this year.”
The “why” in asking the question about the lack of turnovers is important. There are always multiple reasons but the short answer is they don’t have the right personnel. In a year with over 50 sacks and plenty more pressure, the secondary simply don’t have the right playmakers. Expect significant changes to that unit over the next couple months.