5 Ways the Pittsburgh Steelers Can Force More Turnovers

Mike Batista@Steel_TweetsContributor ISeptember 13, 2013

LaMarr Woodley had a sack in the Steelers' loss to the Titans on Sunday.
LaMarr Woodley had a sack in the Steelers' loss to the Titans on Sunday.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense forced no turnovers in Sunday's 16-9, season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans. It was one of the many disturbing takeaways from the game.

This is nothing new. The Steelers have struggled to take the ball away from opponents for the last two years.

The Steelers generated 35 takeaways and reached Super Bowl XLV in 2010. Since then, they've needed two years to match those 35 turnovers. They managed 15 in 2011 and 20 last season.

Since the beginning of 2008, when they won their last championship, the Steelers are 35-5 when forcing two or more turnovers and 23-25 when forcing one or none, according to Pro Football Reference. That includes the postseason.

Forcing more turnovers would help the Steelers overcome the rash of injuries they have suffered and prevent the 2013 season from turning into a train wreck.

Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley Must Stay Healthy

Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley need to just keep doing what they did in Week 1. That includes staying on the field and not getting hurt.

Polamalu had five total tackles, second on the team only to Ryan Clark, and one assisted tackle. One of his tackles went for a loss, and he and Woodley teamed up for another negative-yardage tackle.

After missing nine games last season with a calf injury, Polamalu appears healthy. He zipped all over the field on defense Sunday like his vintage self, often timing the snap perfectly and penetrating the backfield.

Sooner or later, Polamalu will jar a few balls loose.

The same goes for Woodley, who battled ankle and hamstring injuries and had just four sacks in the last year and a half.

Woodley was the only Steeler with a sack on Sunday. The Steelers will take a sack a game from Woodley. An effective pass rush breeds interceptions and fumbles.

More Jarvis Jones

Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' first-round draft pick in April, has been getting first-team reps in practice this week, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

It's looking more and more like he'll get his first NFL start Monday night at Cincinnati.

Good idea.

The more Jones is on the field, the more likely opposing offenses are to cough up the ball.

Jones made two tackles Sunday, both for losses.

Yet according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jason Worilds played 47 snaps at outside linebacker and Jones played 26.

Worilds, with his 10 career sacks in three years, isn't going to scare opposing quarterbacks.

Jones, on the other hand, had three quarterback pressures during the preseason in addition to a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, a recovery of a blocked field goal, a shared tackle of Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles on 4th-and-1 and an interception nullified by a penalty.

On Sunday, Jones showed he can perform just as well when the games count. He's a turnover machine that the Steelers need to use.

More Cornerback Interceptions

Ike Taylor is the Steelers' all-time leader with 119 passes defended, according to Pro Football Reference. However, the Steelers can't rely on him for interceptions. He has just 14 in 10 years.

The Steelers need picks from whichever cornerback lines up opposite Taylor. They had only three from their cornerbacks in 2012.

Cortez Allen, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, emerged as a ball hawk late last season. He picked off two passes and forced three fumbles in the last two games.

That earned Allen the starting job this season, but he hurt his ankle Sunday and wasn't scheduled to practice early in the week, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His status for Monday night's game at Cincinnati is unclear.

William Gay replaced Allen Sunday and was one of the Steelers' few bright spots, breaking up two passes. Gay made two fourth-quarter interceptions to secure Steelers victories in 2011.

Neither Gay nor Allen (not yet, anyway) can match Taylor as a shutdown cornerback. They just need to do their job and intercept some passes.

Lawrence Timmons Must Emerge

Another reason the Steelers have had difficulty forcing turnovers for the past two years is because the defense has aged and become less tenacious.

The defense has become younger at key spots, however, and Lawrence Timmons is the leader of the new generation.

The 27-year-old Timmons has wreaked havoc at times. He had a pick-six in Cleveland last season and an overtime interception to set up the winning field goal against the Chiefs.

Timmons led the Steelers with three interceptions in 2012 and tied with James Harrison for the team lead with six sacks.

Pro Football Focus named Timmons a First-Team All Pro in 2010, yet he's never made the Pro Bowl.

If Timmons has the kind of season that makes it impossible for him to be ignored in Pro Bowl voting, Steelers defenders will get the ball in their hands a lot more.

Steve McLendon Must Make Plays

Steve McLendon isn't as stout against the run as Casey Hampton was, but he's more athletic. He can make more plays in the backfield.

McLendon consistently won his matchup against Titans center Robert Turner Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. He made two tackles for no gain and was credited by NFL.com with a quarterback pressure.

Steelers defensive linemen traditionally occupy blockers to free up linebackers and defensive backs to do their thing. McLendon needs to do more than that to get opposing offenses to put the ball on the ground.


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