The Steelers had four fumbles in Sunday’s game against the Raiders, two of which became turnovers. The Raiders eventually scored on their possession following the turnovers, accounting for 10 of their 34 points. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, Sunday’s score was close and those points made a difference. Second, the Steelers are poised to pass their 2011 fumble total quickly if this becomes a trend. And it could – the Steelers are reinvigorating their running game, remember? Or are they?
Last year, the Steeler with the most fumbles was Ben Roethlisberger. During the regular season he had 8 fumbles and most were turnovers. That number isn’t startling when you remember he was sacked 40 times! There were only six fumbles among the rest of the offensive players during 2011, so four fumbles among the same players in a single game jumps off the page. Roethlisberger only has one fumble so far this year.
Fans who have been bemoaning the loss of the running game for the flashier passing game have pointed to Ben’s interceptions as a reason to move back to the running game. Roethlisberger had 14 interceptions in 2011 and his numbers are similar over the last few years except for 2010, when his season was shortened. However, it’s unfair to point at any one player as the problem. Bottom line, the defenders try to cause turnovers. If the Steelers run the ball more, the interception numbers could go down, but fumbles could go up. Does it really matter WHO turns the ball over?
Now, there’s no reason to think the sky is falling because there were a high number of fumbles in a single game. I feel confident it got Mike Tomlin’s attention. However, people shouldn’t blame this on a reinvigorated running game. Three of the four fumbles were made by wide receivers: two for Antonio Brown and one for Mike Wallace.
Have the Steelers really gotten the running game going? Well, if you look at the depth at the running back position, you can see they want to, but they aren’t there yet. Based on the overall offensive yards gained, the Steelers have a higher percentage of passing yards in relation to rushing yards than in previous years. In 2011, the Steelers had 4053 passing yards and 1903 rushing yards. This equated to a 68% to 32% split in the offensive yards gained. The 2010 numbers have a similar split. Right now, they have 853 passing yards to 195 rushing yards, which is an 80% to 20% split. That’s quite a jump.
Ball control is always an issue and I hate it when I see players getting ready to cross the goal line and they are waving the ball or preparing to do a backflip or the Dougie before they are certain of the touchdown. I could care less what they do once the touchdown is confirmed (unless it draws a penalty), but I care when players lose the focus of securing the ball. You can point at Ben in previous years, but his turnover numbers this year look promising. The fumbles in the Raiders game aren’t a trend yet and they weren’t caused by showboating or stupid behavior. It was a lack of focus. Maybe the early bye week is a good thing.