Lack of picks doesn't overly-concern Steelers
By Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff
Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 12:30 AM EDT
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PITTSBURGH — Ike Taylor doesn’t have hands of stone. It just seems that way because of all the interceptions he lets slip through his fingertips every year.
“I should have averaged probably eight a year since I became a starter,” he said.
Taylor, a sixth-year pro who’s in his fourth season as a starter, is an easy target to blame for the Steelers’ low number of interceptions last year. But he certainly isn’t the only culprit responsible for a lowly total of 11 picks.
“If our guys would have caught just the balls that we dropped, we’d have twice as many interceptions,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “We missed a lot of balls.”
Taylor led the team with three interceptions. But no one else had more than two.
“Man, that was terrible,” free safety Ryan Clark said. “That’s just terrible.
To put that in perspective, consider that the Steelers’ 11 interceptions tied them for last in the NFL. The Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles, a pair of 8-8 non-playoff teams, also had 11.
That’s 19 less than the league-leading 30 snagged by the San Diego Chargers. With 10 interceptions on his own, Charger cornerback Antonio Cromartie had just one fewer than the Steelers did as a team.
Beyond that, the 11 picks represent the second-lowest number in 75 years of Steelers football. Only the 1955 Steelers, who finished last in the Eastern Conference with a 4-8 record, had fewer with 10. The 1939 team, then known as the Pirates, also had 11 interceptions when they went 1-9-1 and tied for last place in the division.
“Do I want more interceptions? Absolutely,” LeBeau said. “I want to be in the top 10 in interceptions every year. But I would also like to add my own set of statistics on what we’re taking about.”
LeBeau was talking about the 10-6 Steelers, the AFC North Division champs last year, leading the league in fewest yards allowed per pass play. On average, opponents gained only 4.94 yards per attempt. The NFL average was 6.05.
Moreover, said LeBeau, the Steelers finished second in the league in points allowed with 269. Only the Indianapolis Colts allowed less at 262.
“What that tells us is that people aren’t throwing the ball all over the field on us,” LeBeau said.
That being said, coach Mike Tomlin and LeBeau have addressed the low number of interceptions to their defensive backs and linebackers. Interceptions are among those moments Tomlin calls “splash plays.”
Every day at practice, defensive backs and linebackers work on ball-catching drills. That’s especially true of the DBs. There’s typically a period of practice when cornerbacks and safeties turn their backs to a jugs machine only to turn around the instant the ball arrives. They must locate the ball and catch it within a heartbeat.
Taylor has even gone as far as asking wide receiver Santonio Holmes for pass-catching tips.
“I’m going to have a lot of opportunities to make plays,” said Taylor, who often shadows a team’s go-to receiver. “I just have to go out there and do it, that’s all.
“My main goals are making sure the other guy doesn’t catch the football, or making sure I don’t get beat deep. But once I get my hands on the ball, I have to do a better job coming down with it. It’s just a matter of concentration.”
“For us, it’s more important not to give up the big play,” said cornerback Deshea Townsend, who picked off two passes last year. “If the picks come, they come. We can’t worry about the numbers.”
Still, nine teams last season had 19 interceptions or more. Eight of them made the playoffs.
“Interceptions rank right behind making sure the other guys don’t catch it,” LeBeau said. “So yes, it’s way up there on our list of priorities.
“It’s one of the great ways you can impact a game, get (our defense) off the field is by intercepting a pass, running it back in good field position, picking it off in their end of the field, or even running it back all the way for a touchdown. You can dramatically impact the game. Yes, interceptions are big.’’