The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers’ takeaway production is proving that it is sustainable.
Explanation: The Steelers had just 15 takeaways all of last season. There were five games in which they didn’t record a single takeaway, and they only had two games with more than one. This year has been quite different. While they were blanked in the opener, they have taken the ball away at least twice in every game since, with 19 total takeaways in a six-week span.
While the Steelers are not going to continue to average three takeaways per game, we have clearly seen the differences from last season—as well as the similarities. One carryover from last season is T.J. Watt’s ability to create fumbles on sacks, which he’s now done three times this year, and four times last year among six forced fumbles. Multiple seasons worth of data = sustainability.
More significant is the fact that, unlike last season, the Steelers are catching the balls that come to them. they dropped over a dozen interceptions last year, but now they’re bringing them in, and change in personnel is a factor. Minkah Fitzpatrick has three, and Devin Bush has two.
There is more speed and athleticism on this defense, and that’s creating more chaos for offenses, an environment that breeds more mistakes. The more mistakes, the more potential for turnovers. They showed they can continue to cause havoc without Stephon Tuitt last night with four takeaways.
The Steelers may be able to average a takeaway per game at this point for the rest of the season. 19 takeaways in six weeks is a loaded sample size, and a regression to the mean is inevitable. Even nine more takeaways would allow them to finish the season with a very robust 28 for the year.
Most of their interceptions have come off of deflections and redirections and things of that nature, which involve a lot of luck, as do loose fumbles. They have had the luck break in their favor quite a bit already this year. Again, expect to see a regression to the mean. The Steelers still forced fumbles last year, but were only able to recover a small percentage of them.