The TOX, or the Toxic Differential, is the difference between the total number of explosive plays and turnovers produced by one team relative to their opponent. There is a strong correlation between a +2 TOX differential or better and victory.
The Pittsburgh Steelers fell well short of that mark against the Detroit Lions, embarrassingly so, including an 0-3 hole in the turnover department. Quarterback Mason Rudolph threw one bad interception on an off-target dump-off, but then his skill guys, Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth, both fumbled in overtime. That’s no way to win a game, especially when playing with a backup under center, as Mike Tomlin exhorted on Tuesday.
“Our inability to score enough points to secure a victory, I really think is steeped in our inability to maintain possession of the football”, he said in assessing Sunday’s draw with the Detroit Lions. “If you look largely over the last four to five weeks, we’ve done a heck of a job offensively of protecting the football, of having great ball security”.
The Steelers played fairly clean football during their four-game winning streak, with three total giveaways, including a fumble by Ray-Ray McCloud on a punt return. They forced five takeaways during that same stretch, but they still came into the game minus-one overall in turnover differential. Now it’s minus-four.
“We didn’t [protect the football] on Sunday, and that had a lot to do with the end result, particularly the two turnovers in overtime were significant”, Tomlin said. “You can’t turn the ball over ever, really, and give yourselves a good chance to win, but particularly in those weighty moments, there’s a price to pay for it. And we paid for it by not securing victory”.
Because of the shortcomings in ball security, and on the other side of the ball with tackling, Tomlin’s practice this week is focused more than normal on the most basic elements of football, which he argues is prudent under the circumstances.
“Much like I was talking about with the tackling, those of you that watch us work, you know we have an emphasis daily on ball security. That won’t change, but it’ll just put an edge to our work in that area with knowledge that we earn that each and every day”, he said.
“That fundamental point of emphasis that allows us to function and allows everybody, to be quite honest with you, in the game of football to function”, he continued. “I’m not talking about earth-shattering conversations here or we need to reinvent the wheel. I’m just talking about a nice emphasis on some core fundamental things on both sides of the ball”.
Will that bear fruit and yield a better outcome in those areas on Sunday? Hopefully, at least, the weather will be kinder to them than the wet and muddy field Sunday that was due for a re-sodding after the game. Not that you can excuse such sloppy play, as plays must be made regardless of the circumstances. Hence, a week of fundamentals, at a much-needed moment.