Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Art Rooney II - The State Of The Steelers, pt. 2: "Turnovers"

"We need to get more pressure on the quarterback, because as everyone will tell you that creates turnovers." - Art Rooney II

Those words were quoted and briefly touched on in part one of this series, and he is correct. Those, among many other "blunders" committed by the Steelers this past season, were collectively responsible for the disappointing 8-8 campaign. - http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/ron-cook/ron-cook-blunders-added-up-to-highly-frustrating-8-8-season-668939/

But Rooney II emphasized two of the more important. Ergo, pressure on the quarterback and the totality of turnovers are appropriately a priority for 2013. - http://www.steelers.com/news/article-1/Rooney-Takeaways-tied-to-sacks/74d97f8f-bd11-4b3e-8d74-993a1b4cd637

"If you look at the playoffs, teams that are on the negative side of the turnover ratio are not in the playoffs. It's really as simple as that," said Rooney II. "That was an area on both sides of the football that we fell short of, and certainly something we can improve upon and something we need to improve upon."

There's no denying that. There was a direct correlation between the lack of pressure and the subsequent lack of turnovers, as Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest pointed out in the article posted to Steelers.com. In the 2008 Super Bowl season, "the Steelers posted 51 sacks and 29 takeaways," and in the 2010 Super Bowl season, "they had 48 sacks and 35 takeaways."

In comparison, "there were only 35 sacks and 15 takeaways in 2011, followed by 37 sacks and 20 takeaways this past season." Point taken.

If you need further numbers backing up this summation, consider that the teams with most takeaways this season were: Bears (44), Patriots (41), Giants (35), Cardinals (33), Redskins, Seahawks and Falcons (31), and the Bengals (30). Five of those eight teams made the playoffs, with one more only missing out (Bears) because of losing their quarterback for a period of time.

By contrast, the teams with the fewest takeaways were: Chiefs and Eagles (13), Colts (15), Dolphins and Cowboys (16), Lions (17), Raiders (19) and the Steelers (20). Only one of those teams made it to the postseason.

Principally mentioned by Rooney II as ones relied upon to provide those defensive splash plays were James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu - all of whom were injured and/or ineffective much of it. According to Rooney II, those players needed to be "difference makers," but weren't.

Harrison, who was already having back problems, entered the season coming off of summer knee surgery and was hampered by those issues most of the year. He didn't really round into form until approximately the 15th week. That had a profound affect on the overall pass rush and low sack numbers.

As far as Woodley is concerned, though he has had groin and hamstring problems the last two years, he was hardly even effective when he was healthy. Mark Kaboly gives a bit of insight into how far his productivity dropped in 2012. - http://triblive.com/sports/steelers/3188450-74/woodley-game-roethlisberger?showmobile=false#axzz2I7jCYgR7

As his position coach Keith Butler said of him last offseason, “Wood has to decide if he wants to be a great player,” and not to "come to camp weighing 290 (pounds)." That excess weight would of course inhibit his ability to recover as quickly and/or completely as he could otherwise.

Point blank, if Woodley is to be a part of the Steelers long-term plans, he is going to have to rededicate himself this offseason to being the "bear" that Butler says he can be, and not the sloth he was this season when he had all of four sacks, rarely pressured the quarterback and was hardly a run stopper. Because, as SteelBlitz.com plainly expresses, his absenteeism was "alarming." - http://steelblitz.com/after-steelers-poor-2012-season-blame-pointed-at-one-player/2422/2013/01/09

Of course, to aid in those splash plays and to eventually push one of the two linebackers, another player must be drafted. A list of possibilities were discussed in a previous blog article. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/01/fixing-steelers-starts-with-drafting.html

The third player Rooney II mentioned, Polamalu, who was injured the majority of the season also. What he brings to the playing field when healthy was made evident in the final two games when he was back to wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage and recording more Troy-like stats of 10 tackles, one sack and one interception.

At one point Rooney II said that the Steelers "would have been competitive" if they had made playoffs. Um...no. No, they wouldn't have.

The realization of that set in when having all three of those men on the field at the same time still resulted in a loss. At home. When they needed it. Realizations that they can't just flip a switch, as it were, or just walk out there and expect to win. Realizations that Polamalu hopes humbles them. - http://triblive.com/sports/-topstories/3188480-74/polamalu-steelers-bowl#axzz2GOLR2ff1

The point was further driven home when seeing the scores of the divisional weekend's games. The four games had an average score of 38.5 - 30.5, with the high being 45 points. When was the last time the Steelers scored 45 points? October 15, 2006, 45-7 over the Kansas City Chiefs.

That brings us to the offense, which was all too eager to give the ball to the other team this season. The Steelers turned the ball over 30 times this season. Five of the eight games lost this season were by three points and another by six points. Four of those game had a late turnover that led to the loss, and a fifth (Denver) that had a pick six to seal the victory.

Then consider that there were over 100 points scored directly off of turnovers. Now, let's assume that eliminating those blunders would have led to 100 more points for the Steelers instead. The Steelers scored 21 points per game this season, up from 20.3 PPG last season. Add those assumed 100 points and the average jumps to 27.25 PPG and five more games are won.

Granted, that is oversimplifying things, but the point is that turnovers take their toll. They are a like a pothole-filled road: some are bigger than others, but they all inhibit being able to have smooth, or efficient, ride, and ultimately cause underlying damage.

Case in point, the teams with the most turnovers in 2012 were Chiefs, Eagles and Jets (37), Bills and Cardinals (34), Lions (33), Steelers (30), Cowboys (29) and Titans (28).

Conversely, the teams with the fewest turnovers were the Redskins (14), Patriots, Ravens, Packers and 49ers (16), Texans (17), Falcons and Seahawks (18).

The teams with the best turnover differential in 2012 were the Patriots (+25), Bears (+20), Redskins (+17), Giants (+14), Falcons and Seahawks (+13), Texans (+12) and Ravens and 49ers (+9).

Worst 2012 turnover differentials belonged to the Chiefs and Eagles (-24), Lions (-16), Jets (-14), Bills and Cowboys (-13), Colts (-12) and Dolphins and Steelers (10).*

The teams with the fewest all made the playoffs. The teams with the most got lovely parting gifts. All but two of the teams with the greatest differential made the playoffs. All but one of the teams with the worst differential received extra vacation time.

Do you notice a pattern developing here? This isn't rocket science. Regular readers of this blog know that we preach execution and fundamentals. The lack of those key elements were rampant all season.

Some of that is on the coaches, yes, but the majority is on the players themselves. Because, as was expounded on before, not one coach fumbled, dropped a pass or threw an interception. As Rooney II said, "It's really as simple as that."

However, what isn't so simple is what each of the players highlighted in this article had in common: injuries. The three usually defensive stalwarts missed a total of 15 games due to injury.

How do they alleviate them? Is it pandemic? Is it cyclical? Are they snake bitten? These and other questions will be addressed in part three of this series examining Art Rooney II's interviews.

* Thanks to Russell S. Baxter of profootballguru.com who did the legwork on these turnover stats. You can also find him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.