By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA -- Judging a football team by the company it keeps would have the Steelers sleeping with the fishes these days.
What do the defending Super Bowl champs have in common with the Raiders, Bills, Browns, Lions and Cardinals, besides poor records? They are the six bottom feeders of the NFL when it comes to turnovers, and the link between turnovers and losing long has been established.
The Steelers lost three fumbles Sunday, all of which led to Atlanta touchdowns in the Falcons' 41-38 overtime victory. That gives them 14 turnovers in six games. Only the Raiders (1-5) with 20 and the Browns (1-5) with 17 have lost the football more often after six games. The other three swimming at the bottom of the NFL are the Cardinals (1-6) with 16, the Lions (1-6) with 15 and the Bills (2-5) with 14.
The Steelers' total does not count the onside kick the Falcons recovered Sunday after it touched Tyrone Carter's hands. The fumbles were lost by Santonio Holmes on a punt return, Willie Parker on a run and a center snap that went awry between Jeff Hartings and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, one of two fumbled snaps.
All but the onside kick, which the Falcons recovered at their 49, occurred deep in Steelers territory.
"We left the defense in some bad situations out there," guard Alan Faneca said. "You're already going against a high-powered offense. With Michael Vick and all the things he brings to their offense, now you give them the ball a couple of times in the red zone! It's not as tough to score when you get the ball starting off right there."
Turnovers cost the Steelers at least two of their four losses -- to Cincinnati and Atlanta.
"We shouldn't have been in that situation," Parker said of the overtime loss. "I'm part of the cause, I fumbled. I have to get better at what I do."
The Steelers are on pace to lose 37 turnovers this season. They lost just 23 last season, 21 in 2004. Their seven lost fumbles in six games are two fewer than their total in 2005, one fewer than in 2004.
Bill Cowher long ago linked turnovers to the success of a team, emphasizing the point as soon as he became the Steelers' coach in 1992. He put it near the top of the list, right after scoring points.
The Steelers are 2-0 this season when their opponent turns the ball over more often than they do, 0-4 vice versa.
Into Cowher's 15th season as their coach, the Steelers are 98-11 when their opponent loses the ball more often in a game than they do, 22-57-1 vice versa.
It's one of the most telling statistics for any football team. It's why the Steelers lost two games in which they outgained their opponents. That includes the game Sunday when they piled up 473 yards to Atlanta's 399.