Tomlin Says Lack Of Turnovers And Sacks Are Mostly A Result Of Them Being Behind

Prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings, I wrote about how the Pittsburgh Steelers lack of defensive sacks and turnovers was tied to them not being ahead on the scoreboard and I warned that it was unlikely to change until the offense started to get leads, especially in the second half of games. Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed what I wrote during his interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

“Really, in some instances, game circumstances has dictated that,” said Tomlin, when asked about the lack of turnovers his defense has created so far this season. “I think people play differently when they play with the lead and we’ve been behind quite a bit this year.”

He thinks?

Tomlin was then asked about the lack of sacks the team has so far this season and once again he pointed to the things I pointed out a few weeks ago.

“An element of it sometimes is game circumstances and situations when you’re playing with the lead, you don’t take the calculated risk associated with creating those type of opportunities, and your capable of playing it closer to the vest.”

Sound familiar?

Defenses run by Dick LeBeau over the years have always relied on the offense to make them better. The bigger the lead, especially in the second half of games, the more sacks and turnovers are generally produced.

In addition to that, LeBeau’s defenses are generally more effective at producing sacks or turnovers when they put opposing quarterbacks in third down and long situations. There haven’t been enough of those through the first four games of the season, however.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Steelers defense has only set up 32 third downs with six or more yards to go all season. That ties them for second to last in the league in that category. While they have been stellar on those downs (21.9%), they just aren’t getting enough of meaningful ones to matter.

In fact, 6 of those 32 third and longs have come in the fourth quarter of games when the Steelers are behind on the scoreboard by more than two scores with less than eight minutes remaining the game. No offense is going to press the issue in those situations. That leaves a total of 26 meaningful third down and longs the defense has faced all season. To make maters worse, they have only faced 58 third downs all season.

So will this improve Sunday against the New York Jets? Well, the Jets do have a rookie quarterback in Geno Smith and he has thrown eight interceptions, and has been sacked 18 times so far this season. However, I should point out that Smith has been solid so far this season when facing third down and more than six yards to go. Believe or not, the West Virginia product has a 71.4% completion percentage in those situations and he has only been sacked once. Oh yeah, no interceptions.

Regardless, the Steelers have to stop the run first and keep the Jets offense behind the chains as usual. In addition, the Steelers offense has to put points on the board early. If they don’t, the Steelers will likely be 0-5.

  • TJimmy

    Not sure if I buy that excuse. Only 4 sacks and zero turnovers? There is a lot more to it than this.

  • Mike Carroll

    I agree. The game circumstances are certainly part of it. But, the team is LAST in the entire NFL in takeaways since the start of the 2011 season (that’s 36 regular season games!!!). In 2011 the team went 12-4 and in 2012 they went 8-8, so they clearly had leads in many games, yet didn’t produce turnovers even then.

  • Dr. Doom

    Not really look at them with an honest view. Dating back to when the all mighty Cowher coached them, when they were behind the defense looked really bad. Because the offense can attack them on two fronts, run & pass. The Steelers are to put it bluntly about kicking you when you are down on defense. I can recall them making below average quarterbacks like: Jeff Blake, Vinny Testaverde, Jay Feidler, Tim Couch. Looked like they were destined for Canton when their teams got a lead, and could run the football. And the defense looked terrible. Wow did you notice that, they all played against Cowher teams.

  • Mike Carroll

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Steelers generate more takeways while playing with a lead. But, is that surprising or unique to them? I don’t have the statistics, but I would think every team in the league generates more takeways playing with a lead. More importantly, game circumstances don’t explain all of the problem for the Steelers. They might not even be the biggest issue. Consider:

    2011 Steelers: 12-4 record, last (32nd) in NFL in takeaways.
    2012 Steelers: 8-8 record, 8th worst (24th) in takeaways.
    2013 Steelers: 0-4 record, last (32nd) in takeaways.


  • lefnor

    Need to stop the run and after that need consistent pressure form their OLBs. What a surprise.

    But Tomlin & Colbert couldn’t build a physical DL with two first round DEs and a fourth round NT. A 6th round ROOKIE starts at ILB, and they can’t substitute him after his miserable play because there is no depth. (“He has been solid not only in performance, but in communication” lol) And their early round investments, the Worilds/Jones ROLB tandem can’t get past the LTs at obvious passing downs. A lot of things have to be repaired.

    At the OL they couldn’t build a physical OL, with so many picks and they can’t even evaluate them. Adams was brutal and they needed a “critical”, historical trade after 4 games without injury at OT? They had no center backups, and an emergency FA pickup starts at the position? Where are the quality backups?

    Rooney wanted more pressure from the D and a quality running game but the team lost its trademark characteristics. That is the most painful for me.

    The article at the official site (Tomlin on physical football: “It’s a mentality”) was ridiculous.

    Tomlin & Colbert totally failed their exam.

  • Dr. Doom

    Its not always about physicality, its also about technique. Yes they have had some bad draft picks, but every team must rebuild at some point. Like it or not.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Thats not a good excuse maybe if you got more turnovers you WON’T BE playing from behind

  • Mike Carroll

    Lot of good points. The Steelers have invested a lot in both the OLine and DLine, yet they are getting beat regularly on both lines which is very troubling. And the utter lack of pass rush from the ROLB combo is also a standout weakness right now.

  • pghfan1992

    Their defense, until this year, was a team strength even without the turnovers. With the transition of players who knew the system to players who have not played in the defense until this year, the defense has become a liability. Add to that the lack of playmakers who can beat their man 1 on 1 and this D just doesn’t have the right combination of veterans with experience and/or playmakers to succeed.
    As the season goes on I believe we will see more plays made as the new players become acclimated but will that be enough to help this offense? Or does the offense need to begin winning time of possession again and putting up points to help make the D good again?

  • Virdin Barzey

    This is nonsense. He’s selling but I’m not buying. The number one reason we aren’t getting turnovers is simple. Lack of consistent pressure on opposing offenses due to a lack of playmakers especially on D-line and LB.

    When Harrison (playmaker) was healthy in his prime, he put fear into QBs. Same for Joey Porter. When it came to stopping the run, Aaron Smith (playmaker) and Big Snack created opportunities for Farrior (playmaker in his prime) and Pola (playmaker). We have no playmakers to replace those guys.

    The number two reason is the lack of physicality. I know folks are going to talk about the commish changing the league from playing physical but all I have to say is look at Seattle and San Fran defenses. Shame really. Teams once feared playing against our defense. Those days are long gone. Cincy defense plays more physical than us. Never believe I would say that….to our shame.

    Don’t believe it? Well if you are looking for highlights, I’ve seen way more Steelers getting ran over, push out, hit hard, burnt, trucked or just plain whipped than I’ve seen in a long time. That’s coaching…or lack their of. I like Tomlin but he better start learning from Cowher to get you team to play with an attitude.

  • cencalsteeler

    Amen! I’d like to add that Dick LeBeau is an artist when it comes to defense. One brush he’s missing in his paint can though is the art of ball stripping.

  • Mike Carroll

    I tend to agree with you, the biggest problem is a lack of playmakers in the defensive front seven. I’m glad to see Cam Heyward get a chance and hoping McLendon rebounds after resting his hamstring a bit. I’d like to see the team work Jarvis Jones in at inside linebacker. Worilds can provide some pass rush given enough snaps and I think Jones has the potential to be great inside.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The Steelers have been running the same defense for as long as I can remember. I do not think it is the defense. The players are at fault.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Nice stats though Mike

  • Dr. Doom

    Jarvis asked to play inside, he was quickly rebuffed.

  • Mike Carroll

    I agree it’s probably the players more than anything else. But, the league has changed significantly in just the last few years, which makes me question how teams around the NFL approach defensive football.

  • Callentown

    Dave, I still have to disagree with you about this. Every year there are teams who are woeful and behind in points in most games. The Jags this year have been behind in every game from at most the 2nd quarter on in every game.

    And still, they have 4 FF’s and 2 INT’s. The Steelers are setting a record in this area for futility. While playing from behind certainly doesn’t make it any easier, it just CAN’T be the only reason.

  • CrazyTerry

    Actually there is a point in what Tomlin says. But it is not the overriding reason. Excuses, During SB 43 year , the defense would generate a turnover while the offense struggled to get a lead and then the offense would have a winning drive at the end of the game.
    In the Chicago game, the D put us in the hole with bad D in the entire first 20 minutes. In the MN game, more of the same crap. I have seen many teams get turnovers even when they don’t lead in a game.

  • CrazyTerry

    Somtiems the coach has to tweak the defense to suit the players. No doubt, the talent level on D is very average. If your top players can’t make plays the same way as Harrison or the old Troy used to, maybe get them to make plays by playing tighter coverage. how are you going to get INTs if your secondary plays off of WRs unless the QB is confused by your zone. As we have seen, opposing QBs do not seem that confused by Lebeau’s schemes as much these days.

  • Johnny Loose

    The lack of turnovers is mind-boggling. I agree that playing with a lead does help in that area since the team that’s behind has to take more risks to catch up. Added to the fact that the defense can also take more risks to try and create turnovers since they have a lead and can afford the gamble. At the same time though, if you’re behind anyway, you should probably be taking those risks on defense to get the ball back. I can’t begin to figure out why the Steelers are incapable of coming up with turnovers. But sitting at 0-4 i say, you want the biscuit? risk it. Put some guys in the backfield and get the QB on his ass, NOW. Defense needs to play mad again like we’re all used to.

  • Moneypenny76

    Of course, they couldn’t take playing time away from the insurance salesman. Oh wait! We just cut him…maybe now they can try moving Jarvis inside.

  • Moneypenny76

    Exactly. This has been going on for three years…you can’t blame this all on the offense. That is just one one factor, and not the most important one.

    By the way, the offense would be scoring more points if the defense got some turnovers or could tackle and get off the field on third down so that the offense had a short field.

  • Moneypenny76

    The reason is that LeBeau’s defense no longer works. We heard comments from players on a couple of teams they played against last year – they said our defense was predictable because they have been running the exact same plays for so many years. That is a red flag. Sadly, LeBeau hasn’t changed anything.

    LeBeau is too stubborn, or perhaps just not equipped, to adjust. Rule changes mean that every year it becomes more and more of a passing league. This “bend but don’t break” nonsense doesn’t work anymore. There are plenty of teams out there willing to take the 10 yards we give up on every pass play because our DBs give receivers such a HUGE cushion. Our defense looks like it is playing scared. They need to get aggressive. Get rid of these huge cushions – hell, my elderly neighbor could make the first down catch if you gave her a cushion that big.

    And maybe spend some time in practice actually going over proper tackling technique. Jesus, what do they talk about in these film reviews? They haven’t fixed anything.

  • Johnny Loose

    Yea I’m with you I absolutely HATE the way our DBs line up 8-10 yards away on 3rd and 4. Definitely need to mix in some press coverage and give the pass rush a chance. Along with some tackling drills maybe someone should show them how to strip the football already. I don’t ever see anyone even attempt to strip the damn ball. I’d hate to think Lebeau can’t adjust to the offenses today and draw up something more formidable. I still somewhat agree with a bend but don’t break philosophy. But you can’t bend every damn play until they reach the red-zone. I’ve seen Lebeau make some really good in-game adjustments over the years so for now, I’ll give him the benefit that he can lead this defense in turning things around and fixing the problem.

  • Callentown

    As I’ve been saying since after week 1, ‘Developmental year’.

  • Callentown

    I believe Lebeau retires after this season. 76 yrs old and going the wrong direction in NFL success as of late.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    LeBeau has used different schemes and we have drafted player to help with those schemes in Spence and The Shark and we saw what happened when we played a different D against the Pats what happened so I have seen a difference in schemes. Whether it is enough we can only wait and see.

  • HopalongCassidy

    Perhaps Tomlin has it backwards. They may always be behind because they have a lack of turnovers and sacks.