The Steelers simply do not force takeaways. This is the root of the problem. This game is about flipping the field. Teams can no longer prey on receivers bold enough to go across the middle, giving them a savage beating for their mistake, along with jarring the ball free. Twice in the loss to Baltimore, we saw this effort appearing futile - Troy Polamalu delivered a big hit and picked up a flag and, a few plays later, Mike Mitchell did in fact dislodge the ball but also picked up a penalty.
It's essentially impossible for a player to hit a receiver in that position in a way that will jar the ball free but without coming close to the receiver's neck and head area. Maybe a 1-in-100 shot. Instead, teams must rely on quickening a quarterback's feet and forcing him into bad throws to prompt turnovers in the passing game.
There always are linebackers simply stripping the ball from receivers on short routes as Baltimore did twice Thursday, but I digress.
The main long-term concern here is we no longer can view this as randomness. Fumbles, and recoveries in particular, wax and wane with over-corrected levels of incidence appearing to stick with a basic, long-term trend. Interceptions are more skill-based. Logically, we can infer the Steelers have gotten more of their interceptions based on pressuring the quarterback. The scheme hasn't changed in their defensive secondary. They don't draft the ball-hawk kinds of cornerbacks. They've had very little variation in their safeties during the last 10 years besides a few injury-replacements thrown in there. The Steelers' defensive backs simply haven't been around the ball.
They've feasted on tipped passes and bad reads and easy-to-spot hot receivers. Just a general observation but it seems like quarterbacks are too smart today. Offenses are more comfortable with the notion of a passer just completing passes, and less concerned with the depth of field being used to accomplish that task. They run less and throw shorter. That the Steelers also are struggling against the run is a separate problem.
Since 2011, the Steelers have played 50 games, and, according to Football Outsiders (and Pittsburgh native) Scott Kacsmar, they have 55 takeaways. Barely more than one per game.
While this isn't a call to fire Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, it's a hope he, as well as the rest of the Steelers' defensive coaching staff and players, will watch a few games this weekend and try to find a way to come up with something schematic to alter this stat. We're past the time of resting comfortably on the expectation that turnovers will come. We've mentioned that philosophy many times. While it's fair to point out Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen have dropped interceptions so far this season, the team isn't disrupting passers or passing enough to believe it's just a blip on the radar. It's a self-produced trend now, and something needs to be done.