The Pittsburgh Steelers have 12 turnovers so far this season, not far from the total number that they had in 16 games a year ago. Those takeaways have been divided evenly between fumble recoveries and interceptions, with no one player being involved in more than rookie Devin Bush, who has three fumble recoveries and an interception.
Also joining in with interceptions are Minkah Fitzpatrick, Mike Hilton, Kameron Kelly, T.J. Watt, and Cameron Sutton, so nobody has gotten more than one yet, and they are finding contributions throughout the back eight. The difference? They’re not dropping the ones that hit them.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about the difference between last year and this year in terms of turnover production. “I think we talk about the ball awareness, we talk about trying to get the ball out”, he told reporters yesterday, via a transcript provided by the team’s media department. “We talk about interceptions, which we did the same thing last year. Sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t”.
One does have to add that some luck has been involved as well, particularly in the San Francisco 49ers game, in which they recovered multiple fumbles as a result of botched snaps or exchanges. Basic mechanic competence wouldn’t have even put them in position to make plays in those situations. But still, it’s clear that they have been more threatening in that department this year.
“Turnovers are big. We have to try to keep getting them”, Butler said of his 1-4 team. “We have to continue to do that. And if we can do that and try to put our offense in position to score as much as we can. When we get in bad field position, we have to have them go up by three, we can’t let them have a touchdown”.
While the Steelers defense has given up some touchdowns as a result of short fields, they have done a much better job than the offense has of capitalizing in short fields given to them. They have begun something like four or five drives in field goal range so far this year, and have only gotten into the end zone on one of them.
Winning the turnover battle is frequently cited as a core statistic in predicting wins, but it’s not enough to just get the ball back. You also have to do something with the ball once you have it. Turnovers create momentum, and that has to be carried over into points.
Right now, the Steelers are averaging more than two takeaways per game. Prior to last night, they were tied for the league lead with the New England Patriots, who just got a few more against the New York Giants.
The question is whether or not their numbers are sustainable. There are indications that it is, at least relatively so, based on how the turnovers have been produced. Deflected passes, loose balls as a result of conscious effort to get a hand or a hat on the ball. They’ve been doing a better job of these tactics this year, and the numbers show it.