After a very brief one-game hiatus, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense became the Stealers once again, picking up another two takeaways, both key in their 16-10 victory yesterday over the Cincinnati Bengals. From Week Two onward until their Week 11 loss to the Cleveland Browns, they had recorded at least two takeaways in every single game.
That streak was snapped, but don’t let that stop them from starting a new one. And it should be no surprise that it was the two men involved in the majority of their takeaways who go the ball rolling, so to speak.
In the fourth quarter, rookie linebacker Devin Bush had actually gotten beaten over the top for a big reception by Tyler Boyd. But he continued his pursuit and punched the ball out. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick swooped in and scooped the ball up, returning it a couple dozen yards.
That was Bush’s first forced fumble of the year, but the seven turnover he’s been involved in. He has intercepted two passes and recovered four fumbles. As for Fitzpatrick, he has five interceptions, now three fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble to boot. He also helped with Kameron Kelly’s interception against the Baltimore Ravens.
Defensive captain Cameron Heyward said it’s not a fluke that those two have been central to their ability to take the ball away. It’s about “just staying around the ball and not giving up”, he said. “That ball was up in the air, Bush stayed after it, and then Minkah was right there to make the play. That comes to not only having luck, but being in the right spot. That falls under assignment and execution, making those tight windows”.
Though the Steelers weren’t able to score off of that turnover, it was a critical turning point that ended a scoring threat late and allowed them to flip the field. And then Bud Dupree shut the door with a strip sack that he recovered himself for their second takeaway. Earlier, T.J. Watt had gotten the ball on the ground as well for a strip sack, but the Bengals recovered.
Over the course of the season, it’s become obvious that this team needs to defense to turn the ball over in order to get wins. Even though the offense hasn’t always been able to take advantage of it. Pittsburgh is among the league leaders in defensive splash plays, and that certainly has to continue, regardless of who is at quarterback over the next five—perhaps five-plus—games.