Steelers cooking up plenty of turnovers
By Mark Kaboly
Published: Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
CLEVELAND — Remember when they couldn't force a single turnover? Remember when they were the last team — 18 quarters into the season — to force one?
Neither can the Steelers.
The Steelers' inability to force turnovers has disappeared. During Sunday's 27-11 win over Cleveland at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Steelers forced a season-high four turnovers that led to 17 points.
Takeaways have become contagious. The Steelers have seven turnovers over their past eight quarters, which has led to more than half of their points during that span.
“We say they come in bunches,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “We don't know how they come or how they get started, but we know once they do get started, they come. Over the past three weeks, that is what we have been doing.”
Against the Browns, four takeaways in a little more than 20 minutes turned a close game into a convincing victory that pushed the Steelers (5-6) into a five-way tie for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot with five games remaining.
“It's definitely been contagious,” said Steelers safety Will Allen, who returned a fumble 49 yards and set up an Emmanuel Sanders touchdown.
“The last couple of games, we have been getting takeaways. I don't want to call them turnovers because we have been taking them away. We are being more mindful and are executing better. It is opening lanes for our pass rush, and our secondary is playing a little better and the linebackers are playing a little better.”
The turnovers are coming in bunches for the Steelers: They have forced 12 in their past five games. The last time they accomplished that was the beginning of the 2010 season, when they forced 16 in a five-game span from Weeks 2-6.
The Steelers insist they are not doing anything different.
“When turnovers come, they come,” safety Ryan Clark said. “It isn't something you can work on in practice. It is not something you can dream up. You just have to make those plays.”
The Steelers did that against the Browns, especially Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers' strong safety forced two fumbles — the first time he's done that in a game in his 11-year career. The first came when he held up running back Chris Ogbonnaya and ripped the ball loose. The second came when he sacked a scrambling Brandon Weeden and knocked the ball free.
“I am not going to say that the play was born out of some increased emphasis or something we emphasized, but it is something that we've been emphasizing,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Polamalu has three forced fumbles in the past two games.
“We've tried to be a little more ball-aware,” Polamalu said.
Cornerback William Gay forced a pair of turnovers, too. His sack of Jason Campbell jarred the ball loose, and it was picked up and returned 49 yards by Allen. Gay also stepped in front of a Weeden pass intended for Jordan Cameron in the third quarter and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
“We got turnovers and scored on defense,” Allen said. “Whenever you do that, it usually equals to a win.”
In games the Steelers didn't force a turnover, they are 1-4. In games they have forced at least two, they're 3-1.
“Yeah, we got a lot of turnovers, but we still gave up a lot of big plays on the back end,” Polamalu said. “If we want to compete with the elite teams in this league, we can't do that.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.
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