Whomever decided it was a good idea to predict the offense would struggle under new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, well you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of the fence. The Steelers are putting up nearly 24 points per game for the 13th spot in the league. The team dominates opponents with time of possession – by a 2 to 1 margin sometimes. Ben Roethlisberger is having a great year, the running game is getting back to form, and the offensive line is playing some of its best football in years. But, surprisingly, it’s not enough.
In order for the Steelers to not only contend in the AFC but win the AFC North title, then the defense is going to have to begin creating a heap of turnovers more than what they have been. They currently average one per game and most are far from being the ‘splash’ plays – turnovers that come at a very opportune time. The lack of turnovers are a growing concern because, as we’ve seen during Weeks 1-6, the defense has a habit of letting leads slip away in the 4th quarter. Gee, wouldn’t a turnover in the 4th quarter just kind of solve a big part of that?
The offense is performing at a high level and is putting pressure on the other team to play catch up for a large portion of the game. But, as we might see on Sunday, a higher powered type offense (big plays and lots of them) such as the New York Giants could very well put the Steelers down early in the game – a scenario where trading field goals and touch downs for the rest of the game are still going to leave them short of a win. The only way to help make up for an early (or late) deficit will be turnovers.
The substandard pass rush is a big part to blame for the lack of turnovers. If the linemen and linebackers can’t put pressure on the quarterback, then they will never force a rushed throw or poor read. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis are doing ‘ok’ jobs so far this season. They are beat from time to time, and Taylor had some really tough games covering even average receivers. But, they are rarely ever in a position to intercept a pass. Clark, Woodley, and Timmons are the only three with a pick – and it doesn’t appear that Taylor and Lewis are going to get one of their own anytime soon. If the linebackers can’t put pressure on the quarterback, then they will never force a fumble of their own either. The team has forced 7 and recovered 4.
Without Polamalu on the field, their chances of forcing turnovers greatly decreases. The defense changes when he’s not out there. Ryan Clark has to play differently, more onus is put on the linebackers to penetrate the offensive line, and the overall ‘X’ factor is absent. But, the Steelers may not get him back anytime soon. He’s out for another week this week, and the team will have to find ways to create turnovers without him.
If the Steelers can find their groove in generating a larger volume of turnovers – and not just any turnovers, but splash plays – then the team has a great chance at running the table in the AFC North. The team has five divisional games left this season. They have yet to play the Ravens this season, and you know those are going to be big physical and hard fought contests. Their offense is carrying that team for a change, and the Steeler defense will need to step up and begin creating opportunities.
Flacco, Dalton, and Weeden – three fallible quarterbacks who just need a bit of pressure to make them crack and make mistakes. It’s up to that pass rush and corners to get the job done.