The Pittsburgh Steelers may not have created five takeaways on Sunday, but they did record five. Three of them came from unforced errors by the San Francisco 49ers offense, including two botched exchanges. Minkah Fitzpatrick, their newest player, forced a fumble and also recorded an interception off of a pass defensed by Joe Haden.
Though their first two takeaways put the offense in scoring position, they were hardly able to generate any yardage, and had to settle for field goals on both occasions. In fact, those six points were all that they scored on the five possessions given to the offense off of turnovers. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers created 14 points off of only two takeaways, which proved to be more than the difference in the game.
While the offensive players are beating themselves up for not doing more with the opportunities afforded to them by the defense turning the ball over, especially on the first two drives in which they began in 49ers territory, the defensive players are taking a different approach: capitalize when you have the ball in your hands.
“When we get a pick, we’ve got to score”, veteran outside linebacker Bud Dupree said. In addition to Fitzpatrick’s interception, T.J. Watt also recorded a takeaway through the air early in the game when Matt Breida bobbled the football. Both were able to advance the ball, but couldn’t take it home.
“When we get a fumble recovery we’ve got to get some more positive yards on it”, he added. The Steelers have recovered five fumbles over the course of the past two games, including three on Sunday. Rookie Devin Bush has three of those fumble recoveries, and he did almost score on one of them.
In spite of the fact that they have seven takeaways this year in just three games, the defense has yet to score on any of them. And watching the Chicago Bears in primetime, it’s hard not to think that is what the Steelers are going to need to do going forward.
While this defense doesn’t seem to have the cohesiveness to be a dominant unit, what they do have is a lot of individual talent, as well as athletes, and those two things combined are the sorts of factors that can contribute to the difference between simply a takeaway and a score.
Of course, the first step is continuing to create turnovers, and we shouldn’t necessarily look to the 49ers game as a sign of a turning point in that aspect. You can’t always count on your opponent to make unforced errors the way San Francisco did. On Sunday, they will face the Cincinnati Bengals, an opponent that has turned the ball over eight times already in three games, including six fumbles lost, however.