EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Legend of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been built on its ferocious “Steel Curtain” defense over the years.
Pittsburgh still ranks among the league leaders in fewest yards allowed, a category it’s placed in the top five in the league each of the past five seasons. But the Steelers are the only team in the league this season without a takeaway on defense.
Just like the Minnesota Vikings, the opponent in London this season, turnovers have defined Pittsburgh’s season. While Minnesota has been exchanging the ball with opponents often — 10 takeaways with 10 turnovers — the Steelers have turned the ball over nine times this season, the third-highest total in the league, while not getting any takeaways of their own.
“Turning the ball over,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of biggest issue for the 0-3 Steelers. “That’s on me and I can’t have it happen. If we don’t turn the ball over in critical situations or as much as we have, then I think we are in most of those games.”
The Vikings have been scratching their heads over their constant turnovers on offense because the defense has been taking it away at a pace they haven’t seen in many years. Minnesota is tied for second in the league in takeaways with six interceptions and four fumble recoveries, but is also second in turnovers with five interceptions and five lost fumbles.
Pittsburgh would take the defensive success in getting turnovers right now.
Some of the names are the same, such as defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and safety Troy Polamolu, along with the lesser-known, long-time starters like defensive end Brett Keisel, linebacker Lamarr Woodley, safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor. But these Steelers have lost a knack for taking the ball away.
Pittsburgh was third in the league in takeaways in 2010, but slipped to 32nd in 2011, 25th last season and have yet to register one this season.
The Steelers own the league’s fifth-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed, but are minus-9 turnover-differential, tied with the New York Giants for worst in the league.
“The guys are working hard,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, once Minnesota’s defensive coordinator, said on a conference call Wednesday. “I’m confident that (turnovers are) going to come with time as long as they continue to do that. Obviously some of the game situations and circumstances that we’ve been in, we’ve been behind, limit the opportunity for those things to present themselves.”
But the Steelers are also concerned about the turnovers offensively.
“We’ve turned the ball over, particularly in the red area, and obviously that takes points off the board,” Tomlin said. “People have scored directly as a result of some of those turnovers, putting points directly on the board. You can’t do that in the NFL and expect to be much better than 0-3 That’s the reality of it. We understand that. But understanding is just part of it, we got to rectify it. We got to fix it.”
Minnesota’s defense has struggled in late game situations, but been opportunistic in taking the ball away.
“Very ball aware,” Roethlisberger said of the Vikings’ defense. “The D-linemen, if they’re not going to get home, they’re getting their hands up and batting balls in the air. When they’re coming after quarterbacks, if they’re not going to get the sack they’re trying to strip the ball out. So, they just seem to always know where the ball is.”
Pittsburgh’s offense got tight end Heath Miller back last week from injury and expects to have rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, drafted in the second round, return this week.
“We made improvements last week,” Roethlisberger said. “We put up 400-some yards of offense. We turned the ball over. And we felt like we’ve made strides every week to get better, it just hasn’t produced itself in the win-loss column because we’re turning the ball over. For us, that’s the first priority is just taking care of that.”