Steelers’ defense toothless in turnover department
The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t lead the NFL in any defensive
category except maybe an unofficial one: missed opportunities.
Sure, the defending AFC champions are putting up their usual
sterling numbers as Thanksgiving approaches. The Steelers rank near
the top of the league in nearly every major defensive category,
including yards against (third), pass defense (third), run defense
(sixth) and points allowed (fifth).
Which makes the number in the final statistical column –
takeaways – so jarring.
More than halfway through the season, a defense littered with
Pro Bowlers and Defensive Players of the Year and coached by a Hall
of Famer have four takeaways.
That’s four, as in the same number of takeaways by the woeful
Miami Dolphins, who have played one fewer game than the Steelers
That’s four as in on pace to set an NFL record for takeaway
The Baltimore Colts generated 11 turnovers in the
strike-shortened 1982 season. The Washington Redskins set the full
season record by taking it away 12 times in 2006.
At their current rate, the Steelers will finish with eight; they
created 35 turnovers in 2010 on the way to the Super Bowl.
”I can’t really put my finger on it man,” linebacker James
Farrior said. ”I just feel like the ball isn’t bouncing our way.
We’ve seen balls on the ground. We’ve seen balls tipped in the air.
Pretty much everything that could happen to get a turnover, to
cause a turnover, we’ve seen. We just haven’t been getting it
The secondary is among the best in the league yet has all of two
interceptions. The front seven has generated just two fumbles, none
caused by players not named James Harrison, who missed a month with
a fractured orbital bone over his right eye.
Safety Troy Polamalu has built his career on making what coach
Mike Tomlin calls ”splash” plays. This year, Polamalu has ended
up all wet.
Though he scored Pittsburgh’s only defensive touchdown on a
fumble return in a 23-20 win over Indianapolis on Sept. 25,
Polamalu admits Harrison did all the hard work on the play by
knocking the ball out of quarterback Curtis Painter’s right hand.
All Polamalu had to do was pick up the ball and stroll the 16 yards
into the end zone.
Holding onto the ball when it comes his way is proving more
difficult. The 2010 Defensive Player of the Year has been hit in
the hands three times with a pass this season. Each time Polamalu
was so intent on tackling the opponent he didn’t react in time to
snag the ball.
”There have been years where I wasn’t able to even touch the
ball during games and there’s years like these ones where it’s just
become really, really close,” Polamalu said. ”(Turnovers) would
make all the difference in how we win and lose games, of
Maybe that’s the most startling thing about Pittsburgh’s
takeaway woes. Despite an inability to get their hands on the ball
on defense, the Steelers (6-3) are winning.
That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Consider the Dolphins
are 1-7. The ’82 Colts went 0-8-1. The ’06 Redskins won just five
”It’s a credit to our defense that we’re still able to play in
games and it’s definitely a credit to our offense because we
definitely don’t give them a short field,” safety Ryan Clark
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been saying for weeks he
expects things to turn around. He didn’t think he’d still be
waiting for his team’s first two-turnover game in mid-November.
”It’s very frustrating for us, but we’re just going to keep
swinging away,” LeBeau said.
Don’t mistake swinging away with taking unnecessary chances.
Sure the Steelers would like the ball. Sometimes, getting the
tackle is just as important.
”Let’s put it this way, if you get the ball once every 20 plays
and they score on the other 19, which would be the most
important?” LeBeau said.
At least when the Steelers are managing to take it away, they’re
making it count.
Polamalu’s touchdown helped the Steelers escape Peyton
Manning-less Indianapolis with a victory. LaMarr Woodley’s
interception against Tennessee turned into a field goal in a 38-17
romp over the Titans. Ryan Clark’s interception on Arizona’s first
drive kick-started a 32-20 victory over the Cardinals, and
Harrison’s strip of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco let the Steelers take a
late 20-16 lead a week ago.
Jumping on a loose ball on Sunday against the surprising Bengals
(6-2) might be a problem. Cincinnati has put the ball on the ground
just once. Coach Marvin Lewis calls it a bit of an anomaly and
offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is wary of a Pittsburgh defense
that’s getting healthy following injuries that have decimated the
”They’ve been trying to mix and match personnel, play people at
other positions,” Gruden said. ”When they get all their guys back
and healthy, I’m sure the turnovers will come. They play hard, they
run to the ball, their safeties hit extremely hard, they just do a
great job The turnovers will come for them, just hopefully not