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Steelers News: Getting more turnovers is easier said than done for Keith Butler’s defense

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how atrocious the Steelers’ defense has been at creating turnovers. The team’s -7 turnover ratio is bad enough, but there doesn’t seem to be any help in the near future regarding the team’s ability to create turnovers.

Mike Tomlin spoke about how the team needs to create more turnovers, but this task is easier said than done for Keith Butler’s unit.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers defense aims for more takeaways

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Wide receiver Antonio Brown famously spends time after virtually every practice catching hundreds of footballs. A teammate suggested others should join him.

Defensive teammates.

“Maybe we have to spend some time with JUGS machine. All of us,” Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said.

Steelers’ defenders, indeed, have had that much trouble holding onto the football.

After another turnover-free game — their third over the past six weeks — contributed to a 24-17 loss at Denver on Sunday, the Steelers said they must get more takeaways if their defense is going to prove championship-caliber.

“We have been emphasizing it, but we have to continue to,” said Heyward, the defensive captain. “This isn’t something that is going to get fixed overnight. But we have to keep our head and keep preaching turnovers, turnovers (and) being in the right place, trust our eyes, let the ball guide you to and high-point it.”

After managing just four takeaways (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) over the past six games, the Steelers are tied for 23rd in the NFL in takeaways with 12 (six interceptions, six fumble recoveries) in 11 games.

The problem is exacerbated by an offense that has not protected the ball well in recent weeks. The Steelers rank 26th in turnover margin at minus-7. The six teams ranked below them are a combined 19-47, so the Steelers’ 7-3-1 record and first-place standing in the AFC North are testaments to how well they have played otherwise.

But with three of the NFL’s best teams (Los Angeles Chargers, New England, New Orleans) among their final five regular-season games, the Steelers recognize they need to start acquiring turnovers to win.

“As a defense, you want to force turnovers to give the offense a short field,” slot corner Mike Hilton said. “But they come in bunches. You just have to find ways to get them.”

Perhaps in a nod to the randomness of fumbles (who recovers them, typically, is determined by luck), Heyward emphasizes interceptions as the Steelers’ clearest path to creating more turnovers.

The Steelers have only one interception over the past four games and two over the past eight games. Of their six on the season, four are from defensive backs — linebackers Vince Williams and Bud Dupree have pick-sixes for the others. The secondary has just one interception over the past eight games.

“Interceptions, they come when they come and you have to take advantage of the opportunity when they do,” Hilton said.

Should the Steelers be more aggressive in pursuing the ball?

“You can take some risks,” Hilton said, “but sometimes those risks will hurt you. You just have to try to be in position and try to make the plays when they are there.”

Mark Madden: Xavier Grimble’s fumble cost Steelers more than a TD

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions Sunday at Denver, the second especially regrettable.

If that damages the Steelers’ season, so be it. Roethlisberger has earned wiggle room and two Super Bowl rings.

James Conner had a big fumble. For the second time this year, Conner putting the ball on the ground arguably cost the Steelers a win.

Conner, too, gets some leeway. He’s filling big shoes with success and aplomb.

Xavier Grimble gets no such latitude.

Grimble is the No. 3 tight end. He’s lucky to be on the Steelers, or in the NFL. He plays just 16 percent of the offensive snaps. Grimble went undrafted. He’s borderline.

Grimble admits to intentionally taking on Denver safety Will Parks at the goal line when Grimble was about to score a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter: “I could have cut back and scored, but I wanted to run right through him.”

Grimble couldn’t even be bothered to switch the ball to his left arm to better shield it from impact.

If Grimble veers even slightly right, Parks’ tackle would have carried Grimble into the end zone.

Grimble outweighs Parks by nearly 70 pounds, but Parks jarred the ball loose and it went through the end zone for a touchback. The Broncos got the ball. The Steelers got no points.

The Steelers lost by a touchdown. Common sense dictates it was by that touchdown.

Grimble’s faux pas changed the game.

If Grimble scores, the trickle-down almost certainly renders moot mistakes made by Roethlisberger and Conner. That Grimble’s fumble was borne of ego dipped in machismo makes it all the worse. It set a tone for Steelers sloppiness.

It’s a mistake the No. 3 tight end can’t afford to make. It might earn a pink slip if you work for Bill Belichick.

The No. 3 wide receiver contributed a less-heralded absurdity: James Washington went unnecessarily airborne for a third-quarter pass that he dropped. If he just keeps running, the play is more easily made and he likely scores a touchdown.

I don’t want to say the Steelers are stupid. But if their brains were Crisco, they might not grease too big a pan.

But Grimble is the biggest of Sunday’s black-and-gold fools. A player of Grimble’s low stature can’t make that mistake.

Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger questions late play-calling

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t question the offensive strategy the Pittsburgh Steelers used in their 24-17 loss Sunday to the Denver Broncos.

The play-calling sequence at the end of the game is another matter.

Roethlisberger’s interception on a third-and-goal pass from the 2 kept the Steelers from pulling off a second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback on the road.

On his weekly 93.7 FM radio segment Tuesday, Roethlisberger questioned the Steelers deviating from the run-pass option play that was called on first down, and he criticized All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown’s route running on the third-down interception by Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris.

The Steelers quarterback wanted the final series of plays to focus on wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had 13 catches for 189 yards, including a 97-yard catch-and-run for a score.

“I think we should have went to him four straight plays,” Roethlisberger said.

A 12-yard scramble by Roethlisberger gave the Steeler a first down at the Denver 3 with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining.

The Broncos stacked the line of scrimmage to prevent a run. The play call sent in by offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner gave Roethlisberger the option to pass.

The first play featured Smith-Schuster breaking from the slot for the back-right corner of the end zone. Roethlisberger’s fade pass landed beyond the receiver’s grasp.

“You throw (in that situation) 99 percent of the time, maybe 100 percent of the time,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s the look to throw it, and JuJu had been winning all day.”

On second down, Roethlisberger was given the same play to use on the run-pass option. He also had Fichtner telling him in the headset to go with the run. James Conner gained a yard, bringing up third-and-goal at the 2.

Roethlisberger said he wanted to use the same run-pass option on third down.

“I was going to throw it to JuJu again,” he said.

Instead, Roethlisberger said he was given a different run-pass play in which he could throw over the middle to Brown, who would be breaking across the front of the end zone from the left. But Roethlisberger bobbled the snap and nearly collided with Conner in the backfield.

“I didn’t have a good grip on the ball,” Roethlisberger said. “So I kind of tried to throw it in the middle of the field (thinking) maybe AB can get there, but if not, there’s no harm done.”

Two things transpired that led to the ball never finding its way into Brown’s hands for a touchdown that would’ve given him a score in a ninth consecutive game.

First, center Maurkice Pouncey pushed Harris into the end zone. Harris was pushed so deep that he was in perfect position to snag Roethlisberger’s pass.

Second, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who was covering Brown, had gotten in front of the receiver, presenting another obstacle to a touchdown pass.

“I can’t tell if he would have caught it or not, but he did undercut AB,” Roethlisberger said. “Who knows what would have happened? I told AB, ‘You have to come in flat. You can’t drift in the end zone.’

“Those undercuts can’t happen.”

Roethlisberger didn’t think he made a high-risk throw, one that resulted in the fourth turnover of the game for the Steelers.

“I thought I was doing the safest thing by throwing it where AB was really going to have to make a play for it,” he said. “Like I said, I wish we would have gone back to JuJu for four straight plays.”