Takeaways vs. Giveaways

Turnovers have been the focus of the first week of Steelers training camp - forcing them and preventing them.<br><br> Their defense has spent the past week working to strip ball-carriers every time they make a tackle. And the offense has worked overtime on completing safe dump-off passes to the tight ends and running backs.

On at least two different occasions in the past week, head coach Bill Cowher has pointed out that the Steelers were 10-0 last season when they forced more turnovers than they made.

Considering the Steelers went 10-5-1 last season, it doesn't take a PHD to figure out why Cowher is stressing giveaways and takeaways. The Steelers have an explosive offense capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry against any defense in the league.

But that offense also turned the ball over far too often - 36 times to be exact. And offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey would definitely like to see them cut down on its 22 interceptions, of which Tommy Maddox threw 16.

"I don't fault Tommy for some of those interceptions, because you want a quarterback who feels he can stick it in there," said Mularkey. "But the thing I want to work with him on is that if there's a question of whether he can or he can't, then don't. Just drop the ball down to the back."

So that has been the offense's emphasis in training camp.

The defense, meanwhile, has worked on flowing to the ball and stripping it away. The Steelers forced 36 turnovers last season, matching their offensive output, but Cowher is always looking for more.

"I put a big onus on the defense to take the ball away, and on the offense to take care of it," Cowher said. "We were our own worst enemies a year ago, and we're basing everything this year on where we finished last year."

"I should be upset with one side every day. If we're not getting the ball out, then we're not doing a good enough job on defense. If the ball's coming out, then I'm not happy with the offense. It's going to allow me to be ornery out here every day."

The only thing the coaching staff must guard against is taking away the aggressive nature of the offense.

Part of the reason the Steelers went with Maddox over Kordell Stewart last season was because they liked his decisiveness. Maddox knows where he wants to the throw the ball and has the confidence in his receivers that they will find a way to make a play. And it's hard to argue with last season's results.

The turnovers did, however, put added pressure on a defense that was already under the gun.

Cutting back on the Steelers' turnovers is certainly something that is worth working on. But given the choice of watching Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, and Antwaan Randle El get opportunities to make plays downfield, or Dan Kreider and Jerome Bettis catch a pass for three yards, I'll take the air-it-out mentality.

Dale Lolley

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