The Pittsburgh Steelers had gotten off to a hot start in 2019 in perhaps just one category: producing turnovers. Entering Week Six, they were tied with the New England Patriots for the most in the league with 12. But the offense was struggling to turn those turnovers into touchdowns.
Even in the several turnovers that took place or returned into opponent territory, the offense almost always stalled and had to settle for a field goal attempt. The lack of ability to produce seven points off of turnovers has been one of the biggest reasons the Steelers have begun the season 1-4.
That got the defense talking about needing to convert those turnovers into touchdowns themselves. And they checked that box early tonight with rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush scooping up an incomplete backward pass and bringing it into the end zone. He carefully aligned himself to assure that he would be able to field the ball cleanly, and then made a diving effort to cross the goal line to score the first points of the game.
Needless to say, that helped to set the tone for the day, the defense playing aggressive and actually feeding off the energy from the crowd, which had a prominent contingent of Steelers fans. Though Philip Rivers was trying to get the ball out quickly, the Chargers’ battered offensive line wasn’t giving him much time.
On the very next possession following the fumble recovery, Tyson Alualu was among those crashing the pocket, getting his hand up and batting the pass, which went up instead of down, enough to give Bush the opportunity to track and field it for the interception. The offense was able to turn that into a touchdown as well to put the Steelers up 14-0 by the end of the first quarter.
That was more than their first-quarter total in every other game this season. In fact, it was more than all of their prior first-quarter points up to tonight. The Steelers only scored 13 points by the end of the first quarter in each of their first five games, so it’s no surprise that so many of their games have been tight.
And it all started with the big defensive spark, cracking the barrier between takeaway and touchdown. Again, this is something the defenders have been actively talking about for weeks now. They understand the situation on offense, even before Mason Rudolph was injured. They know what’s on their shoulders, and they know they have to take matters into their own hands. Tonight, they did.