As we’ll do every week to get you ready for the upcoming game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. Our X Factor for tomorrow’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.
X Factor: Ball Security
The Steelers are the obvious heavy favorites in this one. But it’s the NFL and all our projections and assumptions meaning nothing until the clock hits zero. The best way to lose these “gimmie” games is to beat yourself. Steelers beating Steelers. Chiefly, turning the football over. Lost the TO battle and you put yourself in a position to lose any game, no matter what the records are, what personnel you have, anything else you’re “winning” on paper.
Look no further than Tennessee last week. Heavy favorites against a largely hapless Cincinnati Bengals team. First drive of the game, Joe Burrow and the Bengals kick a field goal. Titans get the ball on the ensuing drive, marching downfield themselves. On 1st and goal from the eight, Ryan Tannehill is picked by Jessie Bates in the end zone. Goodbye chance for points. Tennessee ends up losing that game by eleven. That’s just the latest in a million examples I could offer. Some of the Steelers losses over the years were ones were they literally gave the game away with turnovers. That’s common knowledge.
So against the woeful Cowboys, protecting the ball is paramount. Don’t fumble. Don’t throw a pick. Be smart with the football, avoid mental mistakes, and don’t turn a sack into a strip sack/fumble/turnover. All the obvious things you want to avoid so Dallas doesn’t hang around. Because if you lose the turnover battle and the game is competitive, all bets are off. On the other hand, it’s going to be hard for the Steelers to lose this game if they don’t turn the ball over or are even in the TO battle.
Ball security is something Randy Fichtner says he consistently harps on each week.
“These guys if you ask them, they would probably tell you the first thing we talk about on Wednesday and the last thing we talk about Saturday night is protect our ball,” he told reporters earlier this week. “We live by it. We stand by it. Again, that’s each person’s responsibility. We start individual practice on Wednesdays and Thursdays with ball security drills. It is important.”
That mission will crucially again be important this weekend. Can’t assume this will be a win or a cakewalk. Hurt yourself with fumbles, turnovers, drive-killing penalties, and the Steelers could easily find themselves in the loss column for the first time of 2020.