The Green Bay Packers offense is going to have to be very mindful of taking care of the football as they face a Pittsburgh defense that has been one of the best at generating takeaways this season.
The Steelers defense enters Week 10 with 16 total takeaways, good for the third-most in the NFL. While Pittsburgh’s eight interceptions are good for 11th, they’ve been particularly effective at creating lost fumbles, totaling eight, the second-most this season.
Pittsburgh’s ability to get the ball on the ground starts with their defensive front. Edge rushers TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith have each had two forced fumbles this season by hitting the quarterback. Nick Herbig also has a forced fumble, as does interior defensive lineman Keeanu Benton.
“TJ’s relentless,” said Matt LaFleur on Wednesday. ”He’s one of those game-wreckers I was talking about. Then, on the other side, Highsmith, he’s a baller as well. Not to mention all the guys they got on the interior line. Obviously, (Cameron) Heyward has been doing it for a long time at a really elite level, and they just got him back last week.
“Their front is a problem. Not only by what they ask them to do, but they’re big, athletic, and just create a lot of issues, not only in the run game but in the pass game, obviously, for an offense.”
The Packers are coming off a game against the Los Angeles Rams where they put the ball on the ground twice and lost both of them. Ball security for the running backs and pass catchers needs to be at a premium, and the offensive line, along with the help of tight ends, running backs, and the quick passing game, needs to limit how much pressure is getting to Jordan Love.
Pressure from the Pittsburgh front will not only lead to potential fumble opportunities but, as we saw during the Packers’ four-game losing streak, when Love is facing steady pressure, he can become indecisive, and his decision-making can regress, leading to interceptions.
Winning the turnover battle is frequently a key to determining the winner of any game. For the Packers, with a young offense, winning this battle weekly feels like a near must, and losing it puts them in a hole that has been difficult to dig out of.
In games that Green Bay has lost the turnover battle this season, they are just 1-3, with their lone win coming against New Orleans during an improbable comeback. Even winning the turnover battle or tying doesn’t guarantee a victory, as they are 2-2 in those games. Not surprisingly, during Green Bay’s four-game losing streak, the Packers were minus-four in turnover differential, with Love leading the NFL in interceptions during that span.
Green Bay has 10 giveaways on offense this season, which is actually tied for the ninth-fewest. However, in regards to turnover differential, they are minus-two and rank in the bottom third of the league in that category. This is a product of the defense not generating enough takeaways, an area where LaFleur wants to see them improve.
“I do think there’s another level there in terms of our ability,” said LaFleur following the loss in Denver. “We have to find a way to generate some more takeaways. We’ve got to create those turnovers.”
The Green Bay defense forcing more takeaways will not only help themselves by getting off the field but also provide an inconsistent offense with more scoring opportunities and, oftentimes, better field position.
Along with the Steelers defense generating turnovers at a high rate, their offense does a really good job of protecting the ball as well. Pittsburgh’s eight giveaways are the fifth-fewest in football. Quarterback Kenny Pickett has just four interceptions, which ranks 25th.
Neither offense has been able to find much-sustained success this season. Green Bay is averaging 20.0 points per game, and even that figure is a bit inflated by their Week 1 performance, while Pittsburgh is averaging just 16.6. In what could very well be a low-scoring game, whoever wins the turnover battle is likely going to have the upper hand–and based on how the season has gone up to this point for each team turnover-wise, this is not a matchup that favors Green Bay.