The Steelers are on pace to turn the ball over an alarming 48 times this season. You'd think that would be a record, or at least close to it. But even at this horrific pace, the Steelers won't threaten the record-holding 1978 San Francisco 49ers, who gave away the ball 63 times that year. (The 49ers went 2-14 that season; I think it's amazing they won even two games.) This year's defending Super Bowl champions wouldn't even topple the franchise record for turnovers in a season: 58 giveaways by the Steelers squad of 1950.
What's really destroying the Steelers' season isn't the total number of turnovers, but the situations in which they occur. QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown multiple picks inside the opponent's 10. Never mind similarly inopportune fumbles by Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Charlie Batch.
Is there a record for turnovers in the red zone?
By the midpoint of this season, the Steelers have made 26 trips inside their opponents' 20. They've scored touchdowns on 13 red-zone possessions ... but turned the ball over seven times. That's more turnovers than the Colts and the Chargers have had from anywhere on the field. If you factor in two interceptions that took place inside the 20 -- even though the line of scrimmage was outside of it -- you've got nine blown scoring opportunities in eight games.
And I'm not even mentioning the special-teams gaffes by Santonio Holmes and Ricardo Colclough, who was mercifully dispatched to injured reserve after he shot his career in the foot.
Even using the conservative number, the Steelers essentially missed out on seven touchdowns: 49 points in eight games. It's a huge swing. Add in the interception returned for a touchdown in Oakland, and the three fumbles the kick-return units have given up (all of which led directly to touchdowns by the opposition) and it's another 28 points.
As ugly as the season has been, the math is even uglier: a swing of at least 77 points in eight games. Basically, the Steelers are spotting their opponents about 10 points a game. They're talented, but not that talented. No wonder they lost to a Raiders team that, on a neutral field, likely would lose to Upper St. Clair.
The season has taken some strange bounces, starting with Roethlisberger bouncing his face off a car, to his appendectomy, to Ward (of all players) fumbling while trying to score against Denver. At that moment, didn't you just get the feeling that somehow, the season was cursed, the team snake-bit? It's starting to feel like Mike Holmgren might have some gypsy on call capable of putting the maloik on the Steelers.
Or perhaps it's simple hubris -- the tragic flaw that afflicts the heroes in so many Greek tragedies?
Turnovers point to a real lack of focus. And that suggests that the Steelers are either underestimating their opposition or overestimating their own powers. So great are the Steelers that they play as though they can win games while ignoring the fundamentals ... like the old chestnut about turnovers.
None of this is helped by the alarming number of asinine penalties: two excessive-celebration calls in the span of one month, plus taunting and personal fouls. It adds up to 12 such penalties over eight games. Joey Porter has amassed more 15-yard penalties than he has sacks. This is the guy who was supposed to assume the mantle of team leader left behind by Jerome Bettis?
Football, like life, is a funny thing. It often gives you the same lessons over and over until you master them. Teams will continue throwing jump balls on the Steelers' diminutive cornerbacks until they start batting them down. Teams will ball-hawk, looking to strip the ball first and tackle second, so long as the Steelers keep putting the ball on the carpet. Opposing special-teamers are always going to look for the big, game-turning play because of the atrocious coverage on punts and kicks. And officials will look to throw that flag on the Steelers because they've shown a propensity for those kinds of foolish gaffes.
If nothing succeeds like success, then the converse is true. There are lessons to be learned here, even if the playoffs are out of reach.