As the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive unit declared improving their red zone production as their goal for the 2015 season, it seems the defense has made their focus known as well. That focus would be creating more turnovers. In 2014, the Steelers ranked 23rd in the NFL in terms of takeaways. Their 11 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries were well below "the standard" Mike Tomlin refers to on a regular basis. No wonder why the coaching staff has been hammering home takeaways this offseason.
"Obviously, it's something that's extremely important to us," free safety Mike Mitchell told Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. "We didn't get enough turnovers last year."
"I think we did a decent job of getting our hands on the ball," Mitchell continued. "Coach (Mike Tomlin) doesn't want to give us any credit, though. I think I had three (last) Thursday. He said they weren't interceptions, they were catches. So we're working on getting interceptions, not just catching the ball when it comes to us.
"It's always a challenge with ‘Coach T.' He's always really hard on us and wants us to get better."
Tomlin would be wise to emphasize perfection in regards to the Steelers turnovers. A defense who gives up yards and doesn't stifle the opponent can get away with winning football if you can take the football away. With an emphasis on the secondary in the 2015 NFL Draft, the team not only added three defensive backs to their roster, but players who can intercept the ball.
Second round pick Senquez Golson had 10 interceptions in 2014 while at Ole Miss, Gerod Holliman lead the country with 14 interceptions and Doran Grant added 5 to the total. Pretty impressive ball skills from the young group of defensive backs now beginning their careers with the Steelers. Nonetheless, along with preaching turnovers to defensive backs, the focus has also been on a team-first mentality.
"Troy (Polamalu) used to say when one brother makes a play we all make a play," Mitchell said. "Whether it was somebody being underneath a route getting a ball elevated or maybe a corner getting a good jam, allowing the safety to get over the top a little better, all those things play hand in hand. So we're always excited when one of us makes a play.
"We're in this thing together. A lot of people don't really understand when you're a DB there are a lot of lonely moments. You're always the last person in the screen. Whether it's your fault or not they're pointing at you. So we're a tight-knit group trying to stay together. We always get excited when somebody makes a play."
The excitement towards a teammate making the play doesn't simply stay in the regular season. Even newcomer Kevin Fogg experienced it first hand when he was able to intercept a Ben Roethlisberger pass in OTAs. What did he do when he caught the ball?
"Pick-six," Fogg conformed. "It was just one of those things where I was in the right place at the right time and I ended up getting my hands on a ball and actually catching it. I had missed a couple earlier in the week and in the first week (of OTAs). It felt good.
"I saw on the film my teammates were just going crazy nuts; that made me feel good right there. At first I didn't know who it was (throwing the pass). But then after practice one of the reporters came up to me and said, ‘How does it feel to pick-six Ben?'
"I heard that when it was put up on the film he looked pretty mad. I'm trying to stay out of his way. It's just (about) making each other better."
The Steelers will need their defensive backs to get better, at least in terms of intercepting passes, regardless of who is on the field. If the defense can increase the amount of turnovers they produce, it will only be giving the Steelers' lethal offense another chance to point more points on the board. And that seems to be a healthy recipe for success.