Why the Steelers Will Break the Trend and Increase Their Takeaways

@TeamJuJU/Twitter

By: Michael Stiffler, @Stiffeezy_ on Twitter
SteelerNation.com

 

It’s no secret the Pittsburgh Steelers defense was incredible in 2019. 1st in takeaways (38) and sacks (54), 5th in yards per game (304.1) and points per game (18.9), and 3rd in pass yards per game (194.6). It is the main reason the Steelers had the ability to go 8-8 last season despite a multitude of injuries on offense. Having the ability to generate 2.4 turnovers a game normally generates success for that team. History tells us that repeating this success is hard to come by. 

 

Year League Leader Number of Takeaways Following Year Takeaways Differential
2019 Pittsburgh Steelers 38 ? ?
2018 Chicago Bears 36 19 -17
2017 Baltimore Ravens 34 17 -17
2016 Kansas City Chiefs 33 26 -7
2015 Carolina Panthers 39 27 -12
2014 Houston Texans 34 25 -9

 

Looking at the last 5 league leaders, each team has experienced a decrease in takeaways the following year. I believe there are 3 main reasons there is optimism the Steelers can buck this trend in 2020. 

 

Familiarity

 

The Steelers are returning 10 out of 11 starters this upcoming season. The loss of Javon Hargave  is not a small one to fill, but the Steelers 11th man will be a familiar face. Depending on what you consider the Steelers base defense, Tyson Alualu at nose tackle in his fourth year with the Steelers, or Mike Hilton at slot corner in his fourth year with the Steelers, will be the guy. This is a good feeling considering the other options would be a new free agent or rookie, and during these unusual times, it could be hard for a player to get acclimated quickly. 

 

Speaking of new faces, the Steelers defense doesn’t have many. Looking at the roster of players who will likely see the field for the Steelers defense, the only new faces are newly acquired Chris Wormley from the Baltimore Ravens and Steelers 2020 3rd round pick, Alex Highsmith. These two should be rotational players at best this year, and join a star studded front seven with TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Cam Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt. This should help each player not feel the need to go above and beyond their capabilities and allow them to play to their strengths. A big sigh of relief will be the secondary where the Steelers will return all four starters for the first time in recent history with Steven Nelson, Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds. Steelers fans should rejoice as finally (hopefully) the days of miscommunication are gone. 

 

2nd Year Starters

 

The Steelers possess their football version of a Big 3, with 2nd year starters Devin Bush, Fitzpatrick, and Nelson. Bush should be the biggest benefactor of this being his second year with the Steelers as it is also his second year in the league. Bush in a short time frame was able to produce 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 4 fumble recoveries and 1 touchdown marking a very successful first year, but to say he was perfect isn’t true. Pro Football Focus graded Bush at 62.9 (35th out of 89 LB’s) and a zone coverage grade of 52.1, so there is room for improvement. Improvement should be made as Bush gets his first full off-season as an NFL player. No longer will he have to go through the gauntlet of tasks that comes with his first year. No NFL Combine, meetings with teams, pro days, getting acclimated to a new home and routine, he can strictly focus on football. Also, Bush now has a feel for the professional game on what to expect with speed, strength, and routines. You can expect with another year under his belt he can build upon those numbers for this year. 

 

Fitzpatrick will benefit from finally having an off-season with the team. Fitzpatrick was traded for during week 2 of the 2019 season. Then, he was thrust into the starting lineup to learn the defense as the year went on. Even though teammates have defined FItzpatrick as smart for how quick he was able to pick up the playbook, a true off-season with the team is a huge benefit. Coaches now will be able to install different schemes to maximize the use of Fitzpatrick’s skill set. You can expect Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin and Steelers defensive coordinator, Keith Butler to have him all over the field with his ability to make plays. For Fitzpatrick to generate 5 interceptions and be brought into a new setting is quite the accomplishment. Expect an encore to his All-Pro season. 

 

Nelson’s second year increase will more so be guided by hunger than familiarity. The Steelers boast a star studded secondary with Fitzpatrick as an All-Pro and Haden as a Pro Bowler, but Nelson quietly might have been the best defender of the three. For reference, Nelson allowed 12 fewer receptions and 320 yards less on more snaps than NFL defensive player of the year, Stephon Gilmore. Also, according to Pro Football Focus, Nelson was the second highest rated CB behind Richard Sherman against playoff offenses, which they played 5. Nelson’s next season should prove to the world that his name belongs in the limelight too. 

 

Offense

 

The Steelers offense WILL be better in 2020. Ben Roethlisberger returns and should at least make this offense 7-10 points per game better than last season’s 18.1. What this means for the defense is it will allow their front 4 of Watt, Dupree, Tuitt, and Heyward to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Pressure tends to lead to interceptions, and at worst sacks lead to fumbles. The Steelers have a great grip on pressuring their opponent as they have produced 50+ sacks the past three seasons, and with their front four, I believe each player has double digit sack potential. Also, if the opposition is down multiple scores, I am willing to bet you can only throw on this secondary for so long before one of them makes you pay. 

 

What do you think, #SteelerNation? Will the Steelers break 40 turnovers this season? Drop a comment below!

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