Cook: Turnovers, and lack thereof, the real issue

December 17, 2012
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Linebacker Lawrence Timmons had the Steelers' only sack Sunday, throwing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo for a 13-yard loss in the third quarter. Linebacker James Harrison forced the Cowboys' only turnover, stripping the ball from running back DeMarco Murray late in the first quarter deep in Steelers territory to set up a fumble recovery by defensive end Brett Keisel. The defense didn't have an interception for the seventh time in 14 games and has just seven for the season.

"That's not going to win ballgames," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said.

It didn't Sunday, that's for sure.

Not when the Cowboys defense had four sacks, recovered a fumble and had an overtime interception that won the game, 27-24.

The Steelers started the day with a turnover ratio of minus-13, which ranked 29th in the 32-team NFL. That it is now minus-14 is a pretty good reason the Steelers have lost four of five games, are a decidedly mediocre 7-7 and need to win their final two games at home against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns to make the playoffs.

"Their defense outplayed our defense today," Polamalu said. "We weren't able to get field position with pressure the way their defense did. We couldn't stop the run in cover-2. We missed tackles and had to put eight men in the box. That put the corners on an island ...

"Everything worked together."

Or, more correctly, didn't work together.

It's not as if the Steelers offense bailed the team out. The guys who are supposed to be stars came up small at the worst times. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a horrible interception to cornerback Brandon Carr on the second play of overtime. His pass was well behind wide receiver Mike Wallace, who made things worse by turning into a spectator and allowing Carr to get up and return the interception 36 yards to the Steelers 1. Wide receiver Antonio Brown -- the team's Most Valuable Player last season -- lost a fumble at the end of a 22-yard punt return in the fourth quarter, let another punt roll to cost the Steelers valuable field position and failed to stay inbounds to stop the clock when the Steelers were going to have to punt late in regulation. The rebuilt offensive line -- rookie David DeCastro made his first NFL start at right guard, bumping Ramon Foster to left guard -- couldn't get the running game going and allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked four times in the second half.

"100 percent ... This is on me," Roethlisberger said. "I let the team, the fans, everybody down."

It's also easy to blame the Steelers' patched-up secondary for the loss. Starter Ike Taylor (ankle) missed his second consecutive game, not coincidentally a second loss.

His backup, Cortez Allen (hip) also sat out, forcing Josh Victorian to start at cornerback and Robert Golden to play nickel back. It didn't help that starting cornerback Keenan Lewis left midway through the fourth quarter after making a spectacular play to break up a pass for wide receiver Dez Bryant in the end zone. That forced cornerback Curtis Brown into action, a move the coaches clearly didn't want to make after Brown played lousy a week earlier in the loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Romo threw for 341 yards and two touchdowns and had a passer rating of 111.3. He regularly picked on Victorian, who admitted he was a "little shaky" in the first half but thought he played better in the second half. Steelers linebacker Larry Foote and safety Ryan Clark thought all of the young guys played better as the game went on.

"We played our same defense," Foote said. "We probably even went a little more zero coverage than usual. We left those guys on an island the whole game and they held up."

"That isn't why we lost," Clark said of the young secondary. "They were throwing a lot of hitches and outs. It's not like they were beating us with deep routes."

The old guys are right.

It took Brown's fumble at the Steelers 44 for the Cowboys to get the tying touchdown after the Steelers had gone ahead, 24-17, and Roethlisberger's interception for the Cowboys to get the winning field goal.

It's simple, isn't it?

The Cowboys won because they forced more turnovers.

You want to know the biggest reason the Steelers have lost four of five games?Their opponents forced 18 turnovers in those five games, they forced four.

It really is simple.