2021 South Side Questions: Will Defense Start Producing More Takeaways?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Will the defense produce more takeaways in the second half of the season?

The Steelers have been at or near the top of the league for the past couple of years when it comes to producing takeaways. They aren’t currently anywhere close to the league this time around; in fact, their five takeaways are tied for the sixth-fewest in the NFL.

They are right now on pace to record only about 16-17 takeaways, which would be only the second time since 2011 that they finish a season with fewer than 20. The personnel, largely, is the same as it has been, including the coaching staff, making it more perplexing as to why they haven’t had more success.

They aren’t, of course, getting interceptions like they have in the past. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t have any this year, and he’s had a shot at a couple, but he recorded nine interceptions in his first 30 games with the Steelers in 2019 and 2020.

Pittsburgh has just two interceptions so far. One came from Terrell Edmunds after collecting a pop-up ricochet provided by Fitzpatrick—one of the failed interception attempts that he had. The other came on the final play of the game against the Broncos by James Pierre.

The other three takeaways have come via fumble recovery, but they have forced nine, meaning they have only recovered a third of the number of fumbles forced. The fumbles are harder to come by—they rank tied for seventh—but their two interceptions are near the bottom of the league. They have to find ways to get closer to the ball, and to finish plays when they do.

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