Weak Steelers Defensive Drafts The Real Cause For Turnover-Impotence?

By Jeremy Hritz

While it is too early to be overly concerned about the Steelers opening day loss to the Denver Broncos, an 0-2 record following the matchup with the New York Jets would assuredly trip the alarms. While not quite exactly as abysmal as last year’s opening day thrashing, the 31-19 loss in Denver featured a Steelers team that looked eerily similar to the one from 2011, especially the defense which only forced 15 total turnovers a year ago.

A look at the chart below breaks down total turnovers per season in the Mike Tomlin era. It is clear that in the Super Bowl Championship season of 2008 and in the Super Bowl appearance season in 2010, the Steelers accumulated at least 29 turnovers. Additionally, in both of those seasons, the team recorded over 20 interceptions, with a high of 21 occurring in 2010.  While fumble recoveries were at an all-time low last year at four, in both Super Bowl seasons, the team recorded at least 9.

Total Turnovers

Interceptions

Fumble Recoveries

Sacks

2012

?

?

?

?

2011

15

11

4

35

2010

35

21

14

48

2009

22

12

10

47

2008

29

20

9

51

2007

25

11

14

36

But let’s break this data down even further and look at individual players and the number of turnovers they were responsible for over the last five seasons.

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Troy Polamalu

1

7

3

8

3

James Harrison

4

1

2

3

0

LaMarr Woodley

0

5

1

4

1

Lawrence Timmons

2

2

0

2

1

Ike Taylor

4

1

2

2

2

Ryan Clark

N/A

1

3

3

1

Brett Kiesl

0

0

2

1

1

TOTALS

11

17

13

23

9

What is interesting upon examination of the turnover totals (fumble recoveries and interceptions combined) of the nucleus of the defense, in the two most recent Super Bowl seasons, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, and Brett Keisel have accumulated at least 17 turnovers. Polamalu’s injuries can explain his low turnover output in 2009, yet he played in every game last year and only produced three total turnovers. The lack of turnovers from the team last season can be explained by the lack of pressure because in 2008 and 2010, when the team had 48 sacks or more, they also created 64 total turnovers. What this says is that if the team is to make a deep postseason run, they are going to need a greater output from their nucleus.

While it was refreshing to see Larry Foote force a fumble in the first quarter, the defense again looked turnover-impotent. In previous years, the Steelers had up and coming young defensive talent that invigorated the defense, with the last injection of talent coming from Woodley and Timmons in 2007, and before that, Polamalu in 2003. However, since 2007, it is difficult to identify a young, emerging defensive player that has demonstrated a knack to make the big sack, interception, forced fumble, or fumble recovery. Looking at other defensive players drafted by Tomlin, names such as Bruce Davis, Crezdon Butler, Mike Humpal, and Thaddeus Gibson have not panned out. And players like Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Stevenson Sylvester, Keenan Lewis, Jason Worilds, Cortez Allen, and Curtis Brown have yet to step up, but must do so if the Steelers are to play dominating defense in 2012.

Maybe the problem in Pittsburgh isn’t simply the injuries suffered by the household names. Maybe it isn’t just their age. It very well could be that too many defensive misses in the draft after the selection of Woodley and Timmons are the real reasons why the team is lacking the turnover totals that have become a trademark of Steelers defenses of previous seasons.

The jury is still out, and the season has just begun, yet if the Steelers are going to again be an outstanding defense, they need now, more than ever, their young defensive draft picks to rise up to the standard of play that has been established by the legends that came before them.

The relevance and playoff stamina of the team depends on it.