Study: How Many Takeaways Will The Steelers’ Defense Force This Year?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense was an elite group in 2019, tops in the league with 38 turnovers. With most of the group returning, and key additions of guys like Stephon Tuitt getting healthy, there’s every expectation for this defense to be one of the top if not the #1 group in football.

But can they take the ball away 38 times again? Of course, they can. But should we expect statistical regression considering how high of a bar they’ve set?

We’re going to take a look at what turnover heavy defenses over the past 10 years have done the following season to give us a gauge of where the Steelers may end up in 2020.

Since 2010, here are the 13 defenses who registered at least 35 takeaways. For some relativity, we’ll also put their takeaway ranking next to their number. Next to each team are their takeaway numbers and rankings the following year, to show if there was any decrease.

Team (Year) TOs Rank TOs (Next Year) Rank (Next Year)
Bears (2018) 36 1st 19 22nd
Panthers (2015) 39 1st 27 7th
Seahawks (2013) 39 1st 24 20th
Chiefs (2013) 36 2nd 14 30th
Bears (2012) 44 1st 28 13th
Patriots (2012) 41 2nd 29 10th
Giants (2012) 35 3rd 29 10th
Packers (2011) 38 1st 23 18th
49ers (2011) 38 1st 25 14th
Giants (2010) 39 1st 31 5th
Patriots (2010) 38 2nd 34 3rd
Bears (2010) 35 3rd 31 5th
Steelers (2010) 35 3rd 15 32nd

Here are the final results.

On average, teams in the first year forced 37 takeaways. That number fell to 25.3 the next season, over a 30% drop off.

On average, teams in the first year ranked 1.7th in takeaways league wide. That number fell to 14.5th the next season, a significant regression.

Some more data.

– 76.9% of defenses (10 of 13) recorded fewer than 30 takeaways the next season
– 38.5% of defenses (5 of 13) recorded fewer than 25 takeaways the next season
– No defense recorded 35+ takeaways the following season
– Only three defenses had 30+ takeaways the next season, the last being the 2011 Patriots

Clearly, every number here shows regression. And that’s not a surprise. Any upper tier number is reasonably expected to come down the next, especially something as semi-random as takeaways. Of the teams on this list, the 2010 Steelers took the biggest step back, falling from 35 to 15 takeaways in 2011.

If we assume the average 30% regression from one year to the next, that would put the Steelers between 26 and 27 takeaways in 2020. A good number, one that still bodes well for their playoff chances, but clearly a step back.

Now, will they actually land on that number? Who knows. There are other factors that could’ve skewed regression for other teams. Namely, free agency losses, key players who went elsewhere, something the Steelers aren’t really dealing with. Their biggest losses are Javon Hargrave and Mark Barron. Tuitt’s return will sooth Hargrave’s loss as a pass rusher while Devin Bush should step into a full-time role to replace Barron, who wasn’t a big source of playmaking anyway.

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