Call Them the “Steal Curtain”
It was a dramatic turnaround from previous years, when the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly knew how to get after opposing quarterbacks but did little to cash in on that team strength.
You had to go back to the team’s last Super Bowl campaign in 2010 the last time you saw Mike Tomlin’s squad come up with more than 30 takeaways (the Steelers forced 30 turnovers in 2015). This past season, the Black and Gold led the entire National Football League by scooping up 38 opponent miscues. There were 20 interceptions, second only to the New England Patriots (25) – and paced the NFL with 18 fumble recoveries. It was the most takeaways by the team since 1996 when Bill Cowher’s club forced 40 turnovers. In 2018, the Steelers forced only 15 turnovers.
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Combine that with a pass rush that has topped or tied for the league lead in sacks three consecutive years and you can see why there is a lot of optimism in the Steel City these days – especially with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger apparently fully recovered from last year’s elbow surgery which caused him to miss all but six quarters in 2019.
One of the biggest catalysts, when it came to the turnaround in terms of opportunistic football, was the trade for Miami Dolphins’ 2018 first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick. He joined the team in Week 3 and the club would come up with five takeaways in what proved to be a loss to the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
With the former University of Alabama standout on the roster, Pittsburgh totaled 36 takeaways in their final 14 contests. Tomlin’s club forced two or more turnovers in all but three games, collecting multiple takeaways in 12 of their final 14 outings once Fitzpatrick joined the team. He finished with 57 tackles, five interceptions, a pair of fumble recoveries, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble. And he returned two of those seven takeaways for scores.
So what does all this mean on Monday night when the Steelers take on the New York Giants? Only the Buccaneers (41) and Panthers (35) gave up the football more often than New York (33) in 2019. Quarterback Daniel Jones hopes to take better care of the pigskin this season. He showed promise by throwing for 3,027 yards and 24 scores in 13 outings. But he was also served up a dozen interceptions and fumbled a disturbing 18 times – losing the ball 11 times – and was also sacked on 38 occasions.
There’s a lot of anticipation when it comes to the Steelers this season and the return of “Big Ben.” But perhaps the most interesting thing to watch in this prime time affair is whether Jones can stay out of harm’s way when it comes to Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and the ball-hawking Pittsburgh defense.