Gather round. Going to let yinz on a secret about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. They have one mission and one mission only. To win this season, all they have to do is – drumroll please – not turn the ball over.
Sunday night, that mission failed.
Throughout the season, I’ve offered up loose comparisons to the 1976 Steelers. One with a stupid good defense, literally one of the most dominant of all-time, carrying a messy offense led by rookie QB Mike Kruczek for most of the season until Terry Bradshaw recovered from being driven into the Earth by Turkey Joe Jones.
The offense’s mission then? Don’t turn the ball over. And while they weren’t perfect, they did a reasonably good job, giving it away only 12 times over their final nine games, compared to 19 giveaways prior to Bradshaw getting hurt.
Pittsburgh’s offense of today? Same thing. Don’t turn the ball over. Only they’re far less successful at it.
Make it 21 straight games with at least one giveaways, obviously including each contest this year. Give it away once in a game and hey, you can live with that when your defense is routinely taking it back 2-3 times a week. But when the offense keeps stepping on the rake and handing it over to the opposition, time and time again, the entire philosophy flies out the window.
In the Steelers last two losses, 21-7 to Cleveland and 17-10 to Buffalo Sunday night, they’ve turned it over a combined nine times. At that point, it doesn’t matter how good your defense is. The margin for error is tpo slim.
Mike Tomlin has jokingly touched on that idea. The “don’t kill us” mentality. Mason Rudolph killed them in Week 11. Ditto Devlin Hodges in Week 15.
All turnovers do is either give the opposition a short field to work with, sometimes making it impossible for your defense to prevent points being put up. That was true with Tre White’s second pick, jumping a bad throw by Hodges and returning it to Pittsburgh’s 18. The defense held up, forcing a field goal, but points nonetheless. Those matter a lot in low-scoring affairs.
Or you do the opposite. Take points off your board. Also done in the 17-10 loss. End of the first half, trailing 7-3, with the ball at the Bills’ 10. Diontae Johnson fumbles, Buffalo recovers, and instead of getting within a point at the break (and receiving the second half kickoff) or potentially taking the lead, the score remained unchanged.
Remove those two turnovers and it’s a six point swing. Now it’s 14-13 and the Steelers had the ball in field goal range at the end of the game. Odds are, they probably find a way to win.
My big-brain idea of “hey, don’t turn the football over, you fools” isn’t that in-depth. Trust me, I know. But more than any year in recent memory, it’s absolutely crucial to the structure of the team. Their ability to win or lose solely relies on it. Let the defense dominate in the turnover battle, not put themselves in tricky spots, and keep the score down because yeah, this offense ain’t winning anything resembling a shootout. They aren’t even winning a contest of strongly worded letters.
Pittsburgh isn’t built around by how far their offense can take them. They’re built by how fair their offense can go without getting in the way. Without, to use the Tomlin phrase, killing the defense. Because if this unit has a repeat performance the next two weeks, their season is dead.