II. The Importance of Takeaways & Turnover Margin
Not only must a Defense stiffen and collapse the pocket when the games become elimination ones each week, but they also must be adept at giving their Offense extra chances to score by taking the ball away with consistency. And just like their knack to create pocket collapse, the ‘97 Broncos, the ’00 Ravens, the ‘05 Steelers, the ‘07 and ‘11 Giants, and the ‘10 Packers did quite well for themselves during the regular and postseasons when it came to forcing Turnovers.
Denver’s Defense ranked 9th in the League in Takeaways (31), finished an impressive 4th in Turnover Margin (+10), and even scored 7 Defensive Touchdowns also. Bronco Defensive Backs Tyrone Braxton (7 Takeaways), Steve Atwater (4 Takeaways), Ray Crockett (4 Interceptions), and Darrien Gordon (4 Interceptions) all proved to be vital to the team’s success in terms of their efforts’ to get the Offense the ball back that year. And just as they had done in the regular season, Denver’s Defense won the Turnover battle during their 4 playoff games (9 to 8),. And as we all remember “Steeler Nation,” the Broncos’ Defense forced 4 Turnovers against the Kordell Stewart led Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium the A.F.C. Championship Game to earn a berth in the Super Bowl.
When it came to Forcing Turnovers, the 2000 Ravens might have been one of the best Defenses of the modern era in said area. Baltimore might have had a sputtering Offense for much of that season, but it did not matter one iota as the Ravens’ relentless Defense forced a League-leading 49 Turnovers and an incredible +23 Turnover ratio as Ray Lewis (5 Takeaways), Duane Starks (8 Takeaways), and Rod Woodson (7 Takeaways) led the team. The unit only seemed to play better as the months wore on and the team entered the playoffs. In their 4 postseason contests, Baltimore’s Defense posted a +10 Turnover ratio, made 14.0 Sacks, and forced 5 Turnovers in both the A.F.C. Title Game against the Raiders and Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants.
The Steelers’ 2005 Defense also found ways to take the ball away from the opposition during their Super Bowl season. Overall, Pittsburgh ranked 13th in Takeaways (28), but ranked an impressive 9th in Turnover Margin (+7) that year. Pittsburgh’s Safeties (Polamalu & Chris Hope) tied for the team lead in Total Takeaways (4 apiece) as the unit managed to get significant and consistent contributions from starters and backups alike. The Takeaway trend only continued for the Steelers when during their magical January/February run as they posted a +3 Turnover margin on their way to a title.
The 2010 Packers were no slouches when it came to forcing Turnovers and helping their Pro Bowl Quarterback Aaron Rodgers gain extra possessions during their Super Bowl season. Green Bay recorded 32 Takeaways (3rd) during the regular season and posted a terrific +10 Turnover Margin (4th) as the unit also scored 4 Touchdowns as well. The Packers’ opportunistic Secondary feasted when the pass rush was on that year as Tramon Williams (6 INT’s), Charles Woodson (2 INT’s), Nick Collins (4 INT’s), Sam Shields (2 INT’s), and Charlie Peprah (2 INT’s) all held their end of the bargain on the back-end of the Defense. Of course Green Bay’s ability to take the ball away did not stop in the postseason as they put up a +6 Turnover Margin, and forced 11 Total Turnovers including 3 against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV to close the year.
’07 & ’11 Giants
Due to the fact that Eli Manning was an erratic Turnover machine for much of the season (20 INT’s thrown plus 13 Fumbles with 9 of them lost), the Giants Defense was at an enormous disadvantage during a large part of the 2007 regular season and their Turnover Margin (-9) suffered because of it. Manning’s inconsistencies aside, New York’s Defense still was able to take the ball away 25 times, and most impressively scored 5 Touchdowns during the regular season. But when Eli became hot during the playoffs, the Giants’ Defense continued to perform well and registered 7 total Takeaways (+5 TO Ratio) during postseason play and stepped their collective game up to a new level.
Although the 2011 Giants were considered by many to have “snuck” into the postseason last year, their Defense was extremely adept at taking the ball away all year long. New York ranked Tied for 5th in total Takeaways with 31, and Tied for 6th in Turnover Margin (+7). The Giants of course continued their “Takeaway Ways” during the postseason as they forced 7 Turnovers and posted a +6 Turnover Margin en route to a Super Bowl title.
When one talks about paltry numbers, the Steelers’ 2012 Turnover ratio and total Takeaways stats come to mind. Pittsburgh ranks Tied for 30th in the League with 12 total Takeaways, an average I must point out comes out to less than ONE Turnover forced per game. With Turnover causing catalyst Troy Polamalu basically sidelined for most of the year, Pittsburgh’s Defense has been essentially incompetent when it has come to forcing Takeaways this year. The Cornerbacks are stone-handed, and Ike Taylor is the sole player at the position with an Interception so far this year, and he has only ONE! Lawrence Timmons, an Inside Linebacker, leads the team in Interceptions with 3, and the unit has only picked off 7 passes in 12 regular season games to go along with 5 Fumbles Recovered. Pittsburgh’s Turnover Ratio (-13) is nothing to fawn over either, and the Steelers as a team are ranked 29th overall in said statistic this year.
III. Final Thoughts
Look, I understand that I might be taking a cynical angle on the 2012 Steelers and their chances for success in the postseason. But consider this question, fans:
If the Steelers do indeed qualify for a Playoff berth, will they really be able to stack up against the best of the A.F.C. with an inconsistent/non-existent pass rush and a penchant for NOT taking the ball away with any regularity?
If you do not think that those two glaring deficiencies will be exposed by future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and a Pro Bowles like Matt Schaub and their Offenses’, you are only kidding yourself. All of the “underdog” teams I have discussed each possessed potent pass rushes, could force Turnovers on a consistent basis, and took their games’ to an even higher level during postseason play. Each of them already had the makings of Super Bowl teams because they succeeded in said areas during the regular season, and played their best football down the stretch regardless of their postseason seed (Denver #4, Baltimore #4, Pittsburgh #6, Green Bay #6, ’07 New York #5, ’11 New York #4) and played consistent football when the stakes were at their highest.
So far this season, 2012 Steelers have not proved in any way shape or form that they can sustain a pass rush or force Turnovers with any regularity this year like the aforementioned teams. And in a pass-heavy League readers, if a Defense can do neither of the things which I have discussed during the month of January let alone the entire year, they are due for an early postseason exit.
Just like the Steelers will be…But first they have to qualify.
Readers, it’s your time to chime in now: Do you agree with my sentiments regarding the 2012 Steelers? Disagree with my sentiments? Why? Or if you would just like to vent your frustrations’ about the Defense and their ineptitude this season, let me know.