If there is one thing that the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing much better this season than they did a year ago, it’s taking the ball away. Through less then a third of the season, they already have 80 percent of the number of takeaways that they had all of last year.
In fact, their 12 takeaways are tied for the league lead with the undefeated New England Patriots, and their turnover differential is up there among the league leaders as well. They also continue to produce in the pass-rushing department, among the league leaders again after leading the league in each of the past two seasons.
There are a lot of statistics on paper that look good for the defense, no doubt. But that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that they’re not winning, and whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, or the coaching staff, every group shares the same loss, so there’s no use pointing fingers.
Asked about the turnovers and things of that nature for his group, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters simply, “we’re in it for the outcomes”. A simple and concise answer, but really, nothing more need be said. Their opponents are still finishing games with more points than they have. When that keeps happening, every unit has to self-evaluate to see what they can do better.
One sign that the defense is coming along, and that the team believes that to be the case, was the decision by head coach Mike Tomlin following the overtime coin toss, which they won, to elect to defend first, putting his defense on the field and trusting that they will get a stop that will put them in better field position than they were likely to get on a kickoff.
It worked, the defense forcing a three-and-out—in fact, the Baltimore Ravens ended up going backwards on that drive, in part due to a Heyward sack—but we know what happened after that. JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled after making a reception, putting the Ravens in field goal range. The defense prevented them from registering a first down, but Justin Tucker, the most accurate field goal kicker in history, connected from 46 yards to seal the win.
It’s true that there wasn’t much more the defensive side of the ball could have done during the overtime portion of that game. They did, however, surrender a pair of game-tying field goals in the fourth quarter, including one with 10 seconds to play, a nine-play drive that spanned 45 yards, including a roughing the passer penalty.
When you watch any given play, there is actually a lot to like about this 1-4 Steelers team on offense and defense, and even Chris Boswell is perfect so far this year. There is talent, and playmaking, and ability. There are also vulnerabilities and mistakes that are holding them back from finishing games and locking up wins. They’re not getting the outcomes they seek, and until that starts happening, nothing else that goes on on the field matters.