The Pittsburgh Steelers already have 46 percent more turnovers in 2019 than they had in 2018, and they have done so in 50 percent of the games. After averaging fewer than one takeaway per game last year—15 in total—they are currently averaging 2.75 per game through half of the season, now with 22 after taking the ball away three more times on Sunday. That included their first takeaway on special teams, provided by Trey Edmunds and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
In all, they have 11 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries, and we can trace some of these numbers in bulk to specific players. Minkah Fitzpatrick has four interceptions. T.J. Watt has an interception and three fumble recoveries. Devin Bush leads the team with six takeaways, those being two interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
“We just wanted to put an emphasis on that this year”, linebacker Vince Williams, the second-longest-tenured member of the defense, told Chris Adamski following the win over the Indianapolis Colts. “So we really focused on it a lot this offseason, and it’s started to carry over”.
One of the biggest differences in turnover production this year has been that they have been taking advantage of their opportunities with far more success than they did a year ago. The Steelers dropped over a dozen passes in 2018 that could have been intercepted. They did force a fair amount of fumbles last year, but they struggled to rally to the ball and successfully recover them.
“We are all just around the football”, said outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who has forced as many fumbles as he has recovered. “A bunch of ballhawks. We are trying to punch the ball out, tip the ball up, just not let it fall to the ground, just try to help this team any way possible. We have a lot of unselfish guys who are just trying to do their part”.
A number of the Steelers’ interceptions have come from passes being deflected, including two that Fitzpatrick picked off. Bush and Watt also has interceptions that were deflected, either off of an offensive player or from a teammate. Tyson Alualu batted a pass at the line of scrimmage that Bush intercepted.
This defense intercepted Lamar Jackson three times. While one can certainly argue about where he is in his development as a passer, one thing he has not done throughout his career has been to throw interceptions. He hasn’t thrown one since the Steelers game, nor in six of the Raven’s eight games this year.
Now, as they enter the second half of the season, the question persists as to whether or not they can sustain this success in taking the ball away, because frankly, they have shown no indications that they are capable of winning games without the benefit of the turnover. So if they intend to continue winning, they probably have to continue to take the ball away.