When the Steelers were stumbling their way to an 0-4 start to the season, they were literally fumbling away opportunities to win games. The inability of the defense to force turnovers only exacerbated the issue.
The Steelers failed to force a turnover while the offense committed 11 in the first four games. Since then, they have forced 10 turnovers while committing only seven in the past six games, resulting in a 4-2 record in that span.
“When you’re able to get turnovers, it keeps people from scoring points, and if you get turnovers in the right positions on the field, it allows your offense to score points,” safety Ryan Clark said. “It’s as simple as that. A lot of times we try to make this thing way too complicated. It’s truly a simple game. When you get turnovers and you don’t allow people to get turnovers against you, you can win football games.”
The Steelers forced three turnovers in the 37-27 victory Sunday against the Lions. Those three turnovers turned into 17 points.
After Clark recovered a fumble on Detroit’s botched fake field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter, the offense marched 97 yards and scored a touchdown. After Will Allen intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass on the next series, the offense scored again when Ben Roethlisberger threw a 20-yard touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery.
“You look at our wins and losses, and turnover ratio has been the No. 1 contributing factor in those games,” Clark said. “Being able to get three turnovers and with Ben protecting the ball so well, that helps you win when you play guys like [Calvin Johnson], a superhuman freaky athlete who is going to make plays. So when you make plays, it’s going to turn the tide a little bit.”
Despite their recent surge, the Steelers still rank 14th out of 16 AFC teams in turnover ratio. Only Houston and New York are worse.
Sneak is an option
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he does have a quarterback sneak in his playbook. The reason he hasn’t called it much in his tenure with the Steelers is the risk of injury to Roethlisberger.
The Steelers ran seven plays from the 1 or inside the 1 against the Lions, and Haley did not call a sneak on any. He called four pass plays — one that resulted in a touchdown, another that resulted in a pass interference penalty and two that resulted in incomplete passes. The three run plays he dialed up netted minus-2 yards.
“You always worry a little bit when you call a sneak,” Haley said. “You have a lot of big bodies, taking head shots and things like that.
“When [Roethlisberger] is in there, he’s competitive and is going to keep fighting. It’s not something we don’t have, and we do work on it in practice.”
The Steelers scored one touchdown in four trips into the red zone Sunday. They are 31st in the NFL in red-zone offense, converting 42 percent of their opportunities into touchdowns.
Hood ready again
It looks like Ziggy Hood has a chance to get a second consecutive start at defensive end in place of the injured Brett Keisel, who did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday with plantar fasciitis.
Hood, the team’s 2009 first-round draft choice, started three of the first four games of the season but was replaced by Cameron Heyward. In his first start in six weeks against the Lions, Hood recorded five tackles and had a sack in place of Keisel.
Hood played a season-high 63 snaps against Detroit. He had played just 82 snaps in the previous five games.
“I took the majority of the snaps last week in practice,” Hood said. “When you take the majority of the snaps, you get a better feel for the game. On Sunday, it comes easy.”
AFC North teams are 0-7 on the road in division games. The Browns, Bengals and Ravens are all 0-2 on the road and the Steelers are 0-1.
The Steelers are 1-4 away from Heinz Field this season, including a loss at Cincinnati in Week 2. The only road victory came at the New York Jets.
In addition to Keisel, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) did not practice Thursday. Woodley, who missed the Lions game with the same injury, was limited in practice Wednesday.
Jason Worilds started in Woodley’s left outside linebacker spot against the Lions. Rookie Jarvis Jones took over for Worilds on the right side. They would perform the same duties Sunday in Cleveland if Woodley cannot play.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.