The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of problems, and I’m sure the family of fans of the team heard all about it several days ago during the airing of grievances, an annual tradition on Festivus, celebrated on the 23rd of December. Under different circumstances, a less consistent output in takeaways would be much further down the list than it is, but the reality is, the construction of this team requires that the defense regularly provide the offense with short fields.
Over the course of the team’s three-game losing streak, which they are hoping to break tomorrow against the Indianapolis Colts, they have only recorded two takeaways in total, and both of them occurred in the same game, so in two of their losses, they got no takeaways. The game in which they got the ball twice, they also gave it away twice, so they lose the turnover battle twice and tied it the other time.
“It’s happening for a reason. That’s definitely one of the reasons. It’s very important to create as many opportunities as we can for the offense to get the ball”, third-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick told reporters when he addressed the media on Thursday. “Even if they’re playing amazing, we still want the offense to have the ball in their hands, because when Ben has opportunities to get it in, he’s gonna get it in”.
“It’s just our job to get it to him. It’s our job to get off the field”, he added. “Even if it’s not a pick or a forced fumble, it’s a three and out, it gets the ball in the offense’s hands and gets us off the field. We have to be better in that area for sure”.
The Steelers have the second-worst three-and-out percentage as an offense in the NFL at .277 percent of their drives, better only than the New York Jets’ .280. It’s because the offense is frequently so bad at moving the ball that the defense must give them short fields.
And this is in spite of the fact that, outside of one team, they have far and away the best defensive three-and-out percentage in the NFL. a full .293 percent of opponent drives this season have ended with them giving up the ball without achieving a first down. The Los Angeles Rams are second at .283. The San Francisco 49ers are third. At just .224.
In other words, the defense has done a pretty amazing job this season in terms of getting off the field quickly at a high rate. They also rank second in scoring, second in takeaways, and first in sacks. They do a lot of great things. But the offense needs them to be great, consistently, and sometimes even difference-making.
This wouldn’t have been a shocking realization heading into the season—it still isn’t—but recent weeks have really driven home the stark reality of the importance to this Steelers team of a playmaking defense, which it often appears they can’t win without.