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mesaSteeler
01-07-2011, 06:28 AM
On the Steelers: Success in turnovers led to No. 2 seed
Friday, January 07, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11007/1116142-66.stm
Steelers saftey Troy Polamlu had seven interceptions this season.

Three victories. They made the difference between the Steelers earning the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC this season vs. missing the playoffs last season, between Mike Tomlin as candidate for NFL coach of the year this season vs. him firing coaches after last season, the difference between success and failure.

For all the Steelers did on offense, on defense, on special teams, the difference between their 9-7 record last season and their 12-4 record and return as AFC North champs boils down to one statistic: Turnovers.

Last season, the Steelers were minus-three in turnover differential. This season, they were plus-14, second best in the NFL. And, as any football coach or player will tell you, the biggest statistic other than the final score usually determines the final score: turnovers.

"Turnovers mean everything in winning or losing, especially all the games we played in that are close," said safety Troy Polamalu. "You take one away or you give one more, we could be a 3-13 team rather than a 12-4 team. That's the kind of ball that the Steelers play."

Polamalu led the resurgence in the Steelers' rate of interceptions. He tied his career-high with seven, which are most on the team in the past 15 years. The 21 produced were their most since 1996 and tied for fifth most in the league this season. That was a far cry from the 12 interceptions in 2009.

Conversely, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had his lowest interception rate, throwing just five in 12 games with a total of nine from all their quarterbacks.

"Oh, yeah, it makes a difference, it definitely makes a difference," said defensive captain James Farrior. "It's a game-changing play when you get an interception. We did a good job when we got our hands on it."

No player could pinpoint why the team had so many more interceptions this season other than Polamalu's return for all but two games. But then, he had four interceptions last season in a limited role because of knee injuries.

All areas of the defense had their hand in it, too. Nine players had interceptions with Polamalu and defensive end Brett Keisel returning them for scores. Linebackers had six, safeties nine and cornerbacks five. Last season, no cornerback had an interception until the final game.

"We had a lot more pressure than we did last year," reasoned cornerback Ike Taylor, although their 48 quarterback sacks were just one more than last season.

"The secondary, we just got our hands on the ball. And you can't forget the linebackers, they got six."

Their 21 pickoffs nearly mirrored what they did the last time they won a Super Bowl. They had 20 two years ago, returning two for touchdowns as well -- not counting James Harrison's spectacular 100-yard return in the Super Bowl -- and Polamalu also had seven that season.

Polamalu explained that for the Steelers to get so many interceptions is not usual because of the style of defense they play. It's not a laid-back, constant two-deep safety play that always converges on a pass. The Steelers are more aggressive in trying to put pressure on the passer and stopping the run.

"We've always been here a very smothering style of football team," Polamalu said. "A team like Tampa Bay or the Indianapolis Colts really focus on turnovers, where a team like Baltimore or Green Bay Packers would be a mix of both.

"And, when you have that solid defense [like the Steelers], you don't have very much vision on the ball, you know. Whereas in the style of an Indianapolis Colts, everybody has vision on the ball, and they're just trying to make plays on the ball.

"So stylistically, it's tough for us to make plays on the ball. But, on the other end, when you get a lot of quarterback pressure, it forces a lot of bad decisions."
Extra practice

Tomlin's decision to hold an extra practice next week, on Sunday, was not the most popular decision in his locker room.

But wide receiver Mike Wallace might have had the best answer about not being able to watch the early game and part of the second on television that day.

"I don't care. We got to play some ball. I'd rather be preparing for a game than watching one, any day.

"That means we're still in it and that's way more important."
Merchandise champions

The playoffs have not yet begun and the Steelers enter as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but the NFL already have declared them champions ... of merchandise sales.

More Steelers merchandise was sold during the 2010 season than any NFL team, according to NFLShop.com.

And the top-selling jersey? Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, a candidate for NFL defensive player of the year, beat them all and was the only non-quarterback among the top eight jersey sales last season.

The Dallas Cowboys had the second-best selling merchandise and reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans was third.

Following Polamalu in jersey sales were Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the 2009 league MVP, and popular rookie quarterback Tim Tebow of Denver.

NFLShop counted sales from April 1, 2010 through Jan. 2.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com

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