The one positive to come out of Sunday’s game (other than the fact it finally came to an end) was that the Steelers defense did a pretty decent job, especially when you consider they spent most of the day playing in their own end of the field due to a completely inept offensive performance.
The front seven was strong for the most part, and the defense as a whole even produced some solid pressure on Titans quarterback Jake Locker. Steve McClendon was, from my view, one of the best players wearing black and gold and on one of the rare occasions they let Jarvis Jones touch the field he blasted through the line and lit up Chris Johnson on one of the few plays that actually injected some life into Heinz Field.
Just about the only thing the defense didn’t do: Force a turnover. And that’s not a new development. The Steelers picked right up where they left off the last two seasons and came away in the red when it came to the turnover battle, losing it to the Titans 2-0. It was very nearly 3-0 after Isaac Redman’s second fumble of the day. That is no way to win football games.
For as good as the Steelers defense has been the past two seasons at preventing yards and points, they haven’t done much to help their offense in the field position game by creating takeaways. Over the 2011 and 2012 seasons the Steelers defense forced just 35 takeaways. The only defense that forced fewer over that stretch was the Indianapolis Colts (32). The league average was 50. That’s not only bad, it’s terrible.
Their turnover differential of minus-23 was the fourth worst in the league, ahead of only Philadelphia (-38), Kansas City (-26), and Indianapolis (-24).
There is some luck involved in turnovers, especially when it comes to recovering fumbles (forcing fumbles, on the other hand, is a skill). There were two passes from Locker on Sunday, for example, that were deflected and hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity only to harmlessly fall to the ground before a Steelers defensive back could pull them in. That’s bad luck (or good luck if you’re Jake Locker). But only 35 turnovers in 33 games is quite a lengthy run of “bad luck.” It’s a problem.
So what is it?
An aging defense that, while still relatively stout, just isn’t as athletic and dynamic as it used to be? Injuries to impact players like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Troy Polamalu? Ike Taylor’s frying pan hands? All of the above?
Either way, the turnover battle is one the Steelers have been consistently crushed in since the start of the 2011 season and it’s not making things any easier for an offense has enough problems moving the football and finishing drives (and protecting the football; none of this excuses what’s been going on with the offense when it comes to its turnover problems) without having go 85 yards every possession.