Steelers not winning battle for turnovers
Most football coaches agree that the most telling statistic in any game or season is the turnover. Lose more than you gain and you will lose more than you win.
Over the past decade, every time the Steelers have secured more turnovers than they lost, they have made the playoffs. The three times over the past 10 seasons in which they lost more than they recovered, they did not make the playoffs.
These Steelers are putting that theory to a severe test. They have lost the ball 12 times-- six interceptions and six fumbles. They have come up with two of their own, one interception and one fumble. Yet, they stand 4-2.
The minus-10 turnover differential places the Steelers last in the NFL. They also are last with only two turnovers recovered, and coach Mike Tomlin was at a loss to determine the reason when asked about it Tuesday.
"No, I can't pinpoint it, but what I can say is that you generally are opportunistic when you are on the minute details and you are playing extremely hard. So, that is all we are going to do."
He did not say his defense was not playing extremely hard and that much of the differential came in the opening, 35-7 loss at Baltimore. The Ravens accepted seven turnovers from the Steelers that day and allowed none of their own.
"We are going to remain focused on the minute details of our assignment," Tomlin said. "We are going to try to play together within the scheme and we are going to play extremely hard. We think that those opportunities will increase as you do those things. That has always been my philosophy in regards to those types of plays, so I am not going to change in that regard."
Theories abound as to why the Steelers defense has not produced fumbles and interceptions: The new rules preventing certain hits, including launching into a defenseless opponent; not putting as much pressure on the quarterback that might prompt either poor throws that could be intercepted or fumbles; injuries to star defensive players including end Aaron Smith, nose tackle Casey Hampton and linebacker James Harrison.
Harrison has missed the past two games with an eye injury and will miss more. In the past, he was a turnover machine -- he forced 24 fumbles over the past four seasons that all wound up with him starting in the Pro Bowl. He has one this season, and that helped the Steelers beat Indianapolis when Troy Polamalu scooped it up and ran 16 yards for a touchdown in a 23-20 victory.
Do the Steelers need to change tactics in order to produce more turnovers on defense?
"What we are not going to do is start taking calculated risks and doing things that are unsound in the effort to make those things happen," Tomlin said. "We are playing good defense. We just need some of those signature-type plays that will make the ends of games more comfortable."
Tomlin cited a lack of such a "signature" play on defense that did not make the end of 17-13 victory Sunday against Jacksonville comfortable.
"That has been our signature moment when we are trying to put games away," Tomlin said. "We weren't able to do that defensively."
Last season, the Steelers came up with 35 turnovers, 14 fumbles and 21 interceptions. They are on pace to get five this season.
Polamalu passed all his concussion tests and should be "good to go," Tomlin said.
"He met with our neurosurgeons, and they are very comfortable with where he is."
Tomlin said he will practice today. The news was not as bright on some other fronts. Offensive guard Doug Legursky will miss "a number of weeks" with a dislocated toe. Nose tackle Chris Hoke may not regain the strength in his arm from a "stinger" he sustained Sunday, and it appears Casey Hampton also will miss his third consecutive game with a shoulder injury. That means Steve McLendon could make his first NFL start Sunday in Arizona, at nose tackle.
Harrison and Smith also will miss their third consecutive games. Mike Wallace has a minor hamstring injury that may limit him in practice.
Some brighter health news: It appears that offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu, halfback Mewelde Moore and linebacker Jason Worilds will return, and it's possible offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert also will play.
Tomlin would not say if he would start Worilds at outside linebacker and move Lawrence Timmons back to his spot inside.
"We are going to let that be determined based on how he looks during the week. As always, as these guys work and come off of injuries, we are not going to anoint or insert them into any roles whatsoever."
• The Steelers added a nose tackle to their practice squad because of the injuries to Hampton and Hoke, Elisha Joseph. They also re-signed safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith to their practice squad and released linebacker Mortty ivy and halfback Tristan Davis.
• CBS cameras showed Polamalu talking on a cell phone after he was injured Sunday. Players are not permitted to use cell phones on the sidelines, but Tomlin said Polamalu used one of the doctor's phones to tell his wife, Theodora, he was okay.
"He has had a history of concussion-like symptoms in the past," Tomlin said. "She was concerned. In this era of player safety, you would think that common sense would prevail in some of these things. It wasn't a personal call. He wasn't checking on his bank account."
• Tomlin decried the attention that a scuffle between coaches Jim Harbaugh of San Francisco and Jim Schwartz of Detroit was getting instead of the game between the two teams Sunday. The incident occurred in the postgame handshake, which prompted a question to the Steelers coach. What goes into those things?
"I don't practice it. I don't think about it. I am just going to be cordial, be respectful and wish them well moving forward. I don't know about the norms, OK. I don't get into that. If I spend too much time thinking about the handshake, then I am not doing my job."
First Published October 19, 2011 12:00 am