Nobody has been better at taking the ball away than the Pittsburgh Steelers since the start of last season, who lead the league with 50 takeaways since week one of the 2019 season, including 12 this year through seven games. They provided us a reminder last week why it’s so hard to win without them.
Against the Tennessee Titans, the offense turned the ball over three games, after having only given the ball away four times in the first five weeks. And for the first time of the season, the defense (and special teams) failed to get the ball back even once.
Team wins with a turnover differential of minus three or worse are few and far between, but they managed to get one against a previously undefeated team. And it took a missed field goal from 45 yards out with under 20 seconds to play to prevent the game from going into overtime, after the offense ended the previous drive with a red-zone interception.
After failing to get the ball at all last week, the defense managed to get to Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens numerous times throughout the afternoon, starting with a pick six on the third play of the game by Robert Spillane. Bud Dupree later recorded a strip sack in the red zone. Early in the third quarter, rookie Alex Highsmith picked him off, and the offense quickly capitalized with a touchdown to Eric Ebron, giving them 14 points off of turnovers—the entirety of their scoring up to that point.
One game after failing to take the ball away at all, the Steelers finished this one with four takeaways, all of them against Jackson, who threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, setting a new career-high for the most turnovers for the young former MVP. The only other time he faced the Steelers, the turned the ball over three times.
But the Steelers won this one 28-24. Just like the Titans last week, just imagine how much different this game could have been without the significant turnover differential. Pittsburgh could have dominated Tennessee without the turnovers, but they still managed to win. The Ravens could have dominated the Steelers today if not for turning the ball over four times, three times more than did Pittsburgh.
This is an opportunistic defense, certainly, and it needed to be on a day that it could not stop the run, with the Ravens putting up over 250 yards on the ground in addition to allowing Jackson to throw for over 400 yards.
In all, Baltimore possessed the ball for over 35 minutes and ran 79 plays, averaging 5.8 yards per play. Dick LeBeau used to say that the goals are limiting offenses to 3.7 yards on the ground, 5.7 through the air, and 4.7 overall.
It’s fair to say that they didn’t hit any of those benchmarks, but the turnovers helped them decide this one, including a defensive score. And that’s why the Steelers remain undefeated with a two-game lead in the division.