Turnovers Are Torturing Pittsburgh Steelers

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 23: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a missed throw against the New Orleans Sainst during the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 23, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been hurt by late touchdown drives, coaching mistakes and even officials’ miscues, but their biggest problem has been turnovers.

That was certainly evident in Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, when the Steelers lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter, which led to them losing 31-28.

With the loss, the Steelers (8-6-1) now need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) in their season finale and hope the Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) can win on the road against the Baltimore Ravens (9-6). If those two things don’t happen, the Steelers will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Turnovers Are a Nightmare for Pittsburgh Steelers

Turnovers have plagued the Steelers all season. Things got off on the wrong foot in the season opener as the Steelers committed six turnovers (three interceptions and three fumbles). It’s a wonder the Steelers were still able to tie the Browns, 21-21, in that contest.

But the Steelers calmed things down in their next eight games, committing only six turnovers (four interceptions and two fumbles), while going 6-2. In four of those games, all wins, Pittsburgh didn’t commit any turnovers.

However, turnovers have reared their ugly heads over the past six games. During that span, the Steelers gave the ball away 13 times. In those games, the Steelers won only twice, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots.

Overall, the Steelers have the seventh highest number of turnovers (25) in the NFL. The six teams with more turnovers than the Steelers all have losing records. Of the six teams with the fewest turnovers, five have winning records.

The Steelers are tied with the Carolina Panthers with the sixth highest number of interceptions (16). The Steelers are tied with three other teams for tenth place with nine lost fumbles.

Pittsburgh Steelers Have Few Takeaways

To make matters worse, the Steelers have been terrible at forcing turnovers. Only four teams have fewer than the Steelers eight interceptions. The Chicago Bears lead the NFL in interceptions with 27.

Meanwhile, the Steelers are tied for 18th with five other teams with seven recovered fumbles. The Browns and Houston Texans are tied for first with 13 recovered fumbles.

Overall, the Steelers have a minus 10 differential between giveaways and takeways, which is the fourth highest in the NFL. Of the eight teams with the highest differential, only the Steelers have a winning record. Last year, the Steelers, who were 13-3, ranked 20th with 20 turnovers. They finished with a differential of plus two.

Repeat Performance Needed Against Bengals

The Steelers can only hope for a repeat performance against the Bengals. They won their first meeting of the season, 28-21, in Cincinnati. That was one of the four games in which the Steelers didn’t commit any turnovers.

The Bengals have been crippled by injuries this year, placing 15 players, including quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert, on injured reserve.

The injuries have taken their toll on the Bengals, who won four of their first give games. Since then, they have lost eight of 10 games. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Jordan Evans are all questionable this week after being injured last Sunday.

Steelers Have Huge Edge in Numbers

On paper this game looks like a mismatch in favor of the Steelers. Offensively, the Steelers are fourth, scoring an average of 27.5 points per game. The Bengals are ranked 25th, scoring an average of 23.5 points per game.

Defensively, the Steelers are ranked 15th, giving up average of 23.5 points per game. The Bengals are dead last, giving up an average of 29.3 points per game. The Bengals are particularly bad against the run, allowing an average of 142 yards per game. That’s the 29th highest total in the league.

Jeff Driskel has done a solid job, replacing Dalton, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 908 yards, an average of six yards per pass. He’s thrown six touchdown passes and only two interceptions.

Roethlisberger leads NFL in several categories

The Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL with 630 passes attempted, 421 passes completed and 4,842 passing yards. Big Ben is averaging 7.7 yards per toss. He’s thrown 33 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

However, while the Steelers have the edge, at least on paper, it’s worth noting that the Bengals topped the Raiders, 30-16. Meanwhile, The Steelers lost to Oakland 24-21 in the one of the biggest upsets in the NFL this season. So anything can happen.

Tomlin Makes Big Mistake With Fake Punt Call

One thing that happened Sunday was a big mistake by Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers had the ball on their 42-yard-line with four minutes left in the game. The Steelers were leading 28-24 and obviously wanted to keep the ball away from Drew Brees. Tomlin called for fake punt, which didn’t work. Brees took over on a short field and drove the Saints to a game-winning touchdown.

There was nothing wrong in Tomlin going for the first down. But the play he called was horrible.

Check the play out on this video at http://www.nfl.com/videos/good-morning-football/0ap3000001004035/

First, Tomlin had linebacker Tyler Matakevich (235 pounds) trying to block 300-pound nose tackle David Onyemata. Then, he had linebacker Anthony Chickillo blocking linebacker Craig Robertson. Onyemata didn’t actually make the tackle on running back Roosevelt Nix, but he slowed him down enough for Robertson, who slips by Chickillo, to stop his progress. Safety Chris Banjo, who was unblocked,  then came in, and wrestled Nix to the ground, one yard short of a first down.

It’s just hard to see how the play had any realistic chance of netting the Steelers a first down, especially since it was fourth and five. Basically, in the most important play of the game and the season, Tomlin had two linebackers blocking for a first down. Also, Saints Coach Sean Peyton noted that the Steelers had a player go in the motion before the snap, which tipped everyone off that something might be up.

Last Word

Tomlin should have kept Roethlisberger on the field and given his best offensive players a chance to get that all-important first down. If Pittsburgh misses the playoffs on Sunday, that play will be remembered by Steelers fans for years to come as well it should.

Tomlin did the right thing by going for the first down. However, the play surprised no one and the Steelers committed yet one more turnover, this time on downs. That fake punt call might end up being the worst decision of Tomlin’s career.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Once again, a well written article by my old friend Mark. I pretty much agree with everything you put in there, and find the article to be very analytical of the Steeler season. I would only add, as per the fourth down attempt at the end of the game. You have so many weapons on offense, especially for a short yardage gain. How do you not have your two big tight ends in on that play, and perhaps even your third tight end, with two wide outs and a tail back to run a quick play action and hit a tight end on a 5 yard hook up.

    I like the idea of going for the first down, but, as you wrote, the design of that fake was really poor.

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