Many thanks to one of BTSC's fine contributors, Anthony Defeo, for the post. But I actually had just been thinking about this same topic, and why it was too early to make too much of the big hole the Steelers have dug in the turnover margin department. So expect my counter-point to Anthony's argument here shortly. Let's get started with his take first. - Michael B. -
If I didn't know the details of Sunday Night's game between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis and someone told me that Curtis Painter, the Colts' back-up quarterback, entered the contest in the second half and led his team on a late touchdown drive, I would have just assumed that it was in garbage-time of a very easy Steelers victory.
And the way the game started out, it really did look like it would be a breather for Pittsburgh.
There were the Steelers early in the 2nd quarter with a 10-0 lead and possession of the football near mid-field, looking to put a strangle-hold on the Colts and take total control of a game in-which they were 10.5 point favorites going-in.
Moments later, the Steelers were at mid-field again when Indy's other defensive end, Dwight Freeney, hit Roethilsberger and caused another fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Suddenly, it was a brand-new ball-game at 10-10.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Roethlsiberger turned the ball over for the third time in the quarter, this time on an interception, and Indianapolis capitalized with another field goal right before halftime. The Steelers now found themselves trailing in a game that they were dominating early-on.
The Steelers ultimately out-gained the Colts 408-241, but turnovers cut through offensive stats like a hot knife through butter, and because those three miscues allowed the Colts to stay in the game, the Painter-led touchdown drive tied the score at 20, and Pittsburgh needed a Shaun Suisham last-second field goal to secure a narrow victory.
All by itself, Sunday night's 2nd quarter turnover barrage wouldn't be too alarming--Freeney and Mathis are among the best in the league at what they do--but over the past six games, starting with the Baltimore playoff game in January, the Steelers have turned the football over 17 times--a pretty disturbing trend that, averaged out over a 16-game schedule, would amount to 45 turnovers.
And as for the defense, if it wasn't for James Harrison and Troy Polamalu teaming up for some heroics late in Sunday night's game, the unit would still be searching for its first takeaway since the 2nd quarter of the AFC Championship Game. That might not seem too alarming at first glance, but what separated last year's defense from the disappointing 2009 version was the ability to take the football away at key moments.
The Steelers defense had 35 takeaways last year compared to only 22 in 2009. And thanks to the offense only turning the football over 18 times, the team finished the season at an incredible plus-17 as opposed to minus-3 in '09. That's how you go from 9-7 and missing the playoffs one year to 12-4 and AFC Champs the next.
In today's day-and-age of pass-happy offenses, it's almost impossible to stop a team for four quarters. The teams with opportunistic defenses that are able to create turnovers at key moments are the ones that usually compete for and win Super Bowls.
We might not think of the '09 New Orleans Saints as having a great defense, but they had a whopping 39 takeaways and clinched Super Bowl XLIV on an interception return for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. The defending Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, had 32 takeaways last year, and Steelers fans still cringe when they think about the critical part that turnovers played in the outcome of Super Bowl XLV.
Combined, the last two Lombardi-winners were a plus-21 in the turnover department during the regular season.
Even though they've only played three games, the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers already find themselves at minus-9 in turnovers, and it's probably going to take a Herculean effort just to break even for the year.
I don't know how the 2011 season is going to turn-out, but if this recent trend in the turnover category doesn't soon crest and stabilize, we certainly won't be talking about a second-straight trip to the Super Bowl when all is said and done.