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Turnovers, not the overall competence of the team, doomed the Steelers in Denver

While some fans might think the Steelers aren’t as good as we thought they were, you can chalk this loss up to one thing — turnovers.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Tomlin summed up the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 21-14 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 12 at the start of his post-game press conference:

“We didn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the ball, and we also didn’t do a good enough job of getting the football, and I think, I just finished telling the team that, you gotta look at it at from that perspective. It is a dual responsibility. We didn’t take care of the ball well enough, and we didn’t balance that out by getting the ball, so when you are minus-whatever we were in the game it is going to be tough to win. We have some work to do.”


The tale of the game for the Steelers was, by far, the turnover ratio.

Steelers turnovers - 4
Broncos turnovers - 0

Of those four Pittsburgh turnovers, several took points off the board, and 14 Denver points were scored off those turnovers. Talk about significant plays.

When you look deeper, the Steelers’ turnover margin is curious to say the least. Pittsburgh entered the Week 12 AFC showdown with a -3 in the turnover/takeaway stat line, and when you add the -4 on Sunday in Denver, the whopping -7 puts them well into the bottom third of the league.

In fact, based on the statistics heading into Week 12, their negative turnover ratio is joined by the Baltimore Ravens (-3) and Tennessee Titans (-3) as the only teams with a negative ratio, yet still having a record of .500 or better.

The turnovers can be pin-pointed when it comes to assigning blame. Ben Roethlisberger’s final pass of the game, which was intercepted at the goal line, is inexcusable — on a play that looked “off” from the start. James Conner’s ball security is certainly an issue and Xavier Grimble’s fumble was about as bad as they come.

Speaking of takeaways, it’s more difficult to diagnose why the Steelers can’t take away the ball more often. Maybe the Steelers stopping the run better and putting offenses in predictable down-and-distance situations is the key to pinning their ears back and forcing quarterbacks to throw into tight windows. Maybe the defensive backs on the field simply aren’t of the caliber to be ball hawks capable of making splash plays. Maybe the team isn’t forcing enough fumbles due to the rules in place for those jarring hits which often take the ball away from the opponent?

Whatever the case may be, the biggest factor, as was on display in Denver, is the turnovers. You can survive without taking the ball away, but rarely while giving it up. With much bigger fish to fry coming down the stretch, the Steelers might want to get a grasp on the turnovers, and quickly.