Timely turnovers key in 2015

The effect generating turnovers had on the Steelers' defense impacting games in 2015 was on display throughout the season, especially on Dec. 13 in Cincinnati.

The Steelers grabbed a 7-0 lead on the game's first possession, but the Bengals responded by driving the ball. Eight subsequent snaps by Cincinnati and an unnecessary roughness penalty on free safety Mike Mitchell had moved it from the Bengals' 10-yard line to the Steelers' 4. The Bengals reeled off gains of 17, 18 and 24 yards in the sequence and were on the verge of scoring.

But on second-and-goal from the 4, defensive end Stephon Tuitt read a screen pass from quarterback Andy Dalton that had been intended for running back Giovani Bernard and came up with an interception.

Dalton had entered the game with 87 career TD passes and five interceptions in the red zone, a ratio of 17.4-to-1, the third-best figure among active quarterbacks and one that topped Tom Brady in that department (15.7-to-1), among others.

But for the Steelers' defense it was simply more of the same.

Cornerback Robert Golden had intercepted Dalton in the end zone on third-and-goal from the Steelers' 5 in the fourth quarter of the teams' Nov. 1 meeting at Heinz Field.

This time the Steelers were just getting started.

Tuitt's INT was followed up by one that cornerback William Gay returned 23 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter and another that safety Robert Golden brought back 27 yards to the Cincinnati 16 in the fourth quarter of what became a 33-20 Steelers' victory.

That turned out to be one of the highlight days for a defense that had been challenged to get more pressure on the quarterback and produce more turnovers and delivered on both accords.

The Steelers increased sacks from 33 in 2014 to 48 in 2015, fumble recoveries from 10 to 13 and interceptions from 11 to 17.

Those 30 takeaways (27 on defense and three fumble recoveries on special teams) were surpassed by only Carolina (39) and Arizona (33; the New York Jets also had 30) in the NFL.

And they were a big reason why a defense that finished No. 30 in passing yards allowed (271.9 per game) and No. 21 in total yards allowed (363.1) wound up No. 11 in points allowed (19.9).

The Steelers were as timely as they were tenacious when it came to turnovers in 2015.

They ended up finishing in a three-way tie with seven takeaways in the red zone (New Orleans and the Jets also had seven), tops in the NFL in that category.

And the Steelers allowed touchdowns just 53.3 percent of the time when confronted with an opponent's goal-to-goal situation (16 in 30), the fourth-best performance in the league in that department.

Just as revealing in terms of the significance turnovers had for the Steelers' defense in 2015 and its ability to contribute to winning efforts was what occurred when the Steelers weren't able to come up with a turnover.

That happened on four occasions (at New England, at Kansas City, at Seattle and at Baltimore) in the regular season.

The Steelers went 0-4 in those games.

They were also unable to take the ball away in what became a 23-16 loss at Denver in the second round of the postseason.

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