Labriola on loss to Browns

CLEVELAND – Blame the turnovers. It would be easy to make that case, because after all, there were eight of them. Eight of them, and were it not for the fortuitous placement of the sideline on a few other occasions, eight could have grown into 11.

You cannot win games in the NFL with eight turnovers, even against a 2-8 opponent, and last Sunday the Steelers allowed themselves to become another example in support of that reality. They threw three interceptions and lost five fumbles for their total of eight, and the other ominous total resulting from their 20-14 defeat by the Cleveland Browns was that they are 6-5 after 11 games.

Here are some more ominous totals to consider: 10, which is the Steelers' number of takeaways in the 2012 season's 11 games so far; and 15, which was the Steelers' number of takeaways during the entire 2011 regular season.

If you want to identify a reason for 6-5, for what will be the Steelers' biggest obstacle in transforming that 6-5 into something good enough to qualify for the playoffs, I submit that 10 is more significant than eight. Much more significant.

It is a fact that eight turnovers represents a slapstick level of incompetence in the ball security area, but all of those percentages being recited in an attempt to correlate turning the ball over and losing games in fact measure turnover ratio. Turnover ratio being the number of times the football is surrendered vs. the number of times it is taken away.

Teams that complete a game with a minus-7 turnover ratio, as the Steelers did against the Browns – and I'm going to go out on a limb here – never win. But a minus-3, or maybe a minus-4? Especially in a game just filled with turnovers by both teams and penalties by both teams and bad football by both teams? There's a chance. Maybe a chance as slim as the Steelers' to win the AFC North Division, but a chance nevertheless.

That's where the Steelers are failing miserably. They create no takeaways. And it's not a one-year malady either, which makes it even more of a problem.

As previously noted, the Steelers have 10 takeaways in their 11 games this season, which is the second-lowest total in the NFL behind only the Indianapolis Colts. Their 2011 season total of 15 was the lowest in the NFL. Since the start of the 2011 season – a span now of 27 games – the Steelers have eight fumble recoveries.

The Steelers are 6-5 and now tied for second place in the division with the Cincinnati Bengals, with both of them three games behind the front-running Baltimore Ravens. That certainly puts winning the AFC North in the same category as believing in the Easter Bunny, but making the playoffs is not even a mathematical improbability at this point, because the Bengals, Steelers and Colts are the only AFC non-division leaders currently with winning records. And even in this muck of mediocrity, there still have to be two Wild Card spots allotted to the AFC.

And so, it's not over. Hey, maybe Troy Polamalu comes back, and James Harrison continues on the path back to being James Harrison, and Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown return to make the offense a force, and they start getting the luxury of scratching healthy players for games.

All that could happen, but still, finishing last in the NFL in takeaways is no way to contend for a championship.

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