Steelers finally creating turnovers, hoping wins will follow suit
CARSON, Calif. — At times, it seems like Murphy’s Law has worked against the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Considering the injuries and close defeats during a 1-4 start, what could go wrong has gone wrong in recent weeks.
Another law, however, has been on the minds of some players lately: the law of averages. The belief is with all the turnovers the defense has generated, the team’s fortunes are bound to turn around.
“We have to continue getting after the ball,” defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said. “Keep putting pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s sacks or turnovers, that’s how we’ve got to roll.”
Added safety Terrell Edmunds: “We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
The Steelers entered Week 6 with 12 turnovers created, tied with the New England Patriots for tops in the NFL (the Patriots added four more Thursday night). Yet while the Patriots remain undefeated, the Steelers are off to their worst start since 2013.
All 12 of those turnovers came in the past four games, including five at San Francisco and three last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Yet, the Steelers lost both of those games when a turnover of their own creation led to the winning score.
“Turnovers are big,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler understated. “We have to try to keep getting them. … We have to continue to do that. And if we can do that and try to put our offense in position to score as much as we can, (it should even out). When we get in bad field position, we have to have them go up by three. We can’t let them have a touchdown.”
Working with a short field after Jaylen Samuels threw an interception out of the wildcat formation last weekend, the Ravens scored a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Two weeks earlier, the Steelers forced a pair of turnovers inside 49ers territory and came away with a pair of Chris Boswell field goals.
“There’s a price to pay for that,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
The encouraging part for the Steelers is they actually are creating turnovers this season. One of the subplots of last year’s 9-6-1 record was the defense tying a franchise single-season low with eight interceptions and generating 15 turnovers overall, tied for the third-fewest total in the NFL.
What has been the difference in 2019?
“It’s being in the right spot at the right time, partially,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “It’s everybody doing their job. It’s guys making plays. At this level, even to be in the right place at the right time is tough to do.
“It’s a lot of practice. It’s a lot of guys working together, being able to make those splash plays. It’s something we take pride in and try to keep doing as a defense.”
Creating turnovers was a renewed focus for the defense from the minute offseason workouts began in the spring, and the emphasis continued in training camp and beyond.
“When you don’t have pads on, it’s hard to tackle people, so wrap them up and go for the ball,” outside linebacker Bud Dupree said. “We had drills in camp where the first guy was the runner and the second was the puncher. We would try to get the ball out on a strip sack.”
The early returns are promising even if the record doesn’t indicate it. The Steelers have forced nine fumbles, recovering six. For comparison, the Steelers forced 11 fumbles during the 2018 season, recovering seven. They have six interceptions, including three against the Ravens.
“I think we talk about the ball awareness. We talk about trying to get the ball out,” Butler said. “We talk about interceptions, which we did the same thing last year. Sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t.”
They’ve happened more frequently for the Steelers this season. It’s just a matter of turning the turnovers into wins — and putting the law of averages into motion and Murphy’s Law to bed.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .