And I ain't talkin' about the apple turnovers grandma used to make...
Like you, I hear a lot about how turnovers are the difference in a football game. I decided to dive head-first into the turnover ratio to see just how much it matters. What I found makes the cliche very compelling. Here's what our Head Coach thinks about the situation:
"The first component of the program is playing sound football and the No. 1 criteria for winning games in the National Football League is holding onto the ball and taking the ball away," Philbin said. "That's at the top of the list."
- Palm Beach Post
"Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin believes he knows what separates his team from the Patriots, and it's neither their jewelry collection nor their quarterback. It's their ability to separate their opponent from the football."
- Boston Herald
"There is a wide variety of give aways in a ball game. We have to do a better job," Philbin said about the team's top priority.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel, yesterday's training camp session
"We started off (practice) with the emphasis of ball security and getting takeaways. We didn't get that right last year," Philbin said.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel, yesterday's training camp session
Feeling beat over the head, mashed over the cranium, crushed over the skull, pummeled over the dome, trounced over the melon, gettin' a King Kong on the ding-dong with redundancy, yet? I examined the last 7 years of the NFL Playoffs and the teams that made it in. There's a valid rationale why Joe Philbin is scraping his fingernails against the chalkboard. Since 2006, 84 teams have made the Playoffs; of the 84 teams that made the Playoffs, 64 teams have been in the top half of the league in turnover differential. That's 76% of all teams making the Playoffs in the last 7 years. 51 of those 64 teams were in the top 10 in the turnover differential, or 60% of all teams making the Playoffs. Only 1 of 84 teams has made it to the Super Bowl being in the bottom half of the league in turnovers (more on this later). That's a whopping 1.2%.
I bet you're wondering: "How many of those 'good turnover' teams made the Super Bowl, Sutton?" I'm glad you asked! Only once, in the last 7 years, did a team in the bottom half of the league in turnovers make it to the Super Bowl: the 2007 New York Giants. And hey, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one since they dethroned the New England Patriots' bid for a perfect season. So, assuming you took at least remedial math in high school (which might be asking a lot), 13 of 14 teams in the last 7 Super Bowls displayed teams in the top half of the league in turnovers. 93%. 10 of the 14 Super Bowl-appearing teams finished in the top 10. Almost 72%. A lot of the Playoff games in question involved turnovers, too. Last year's Baltimore vs. New England game in Foxboro is a prime example. It just-so-happened that New England was #1 in the league in turnover margin last year, but Baltimore wins 28-13 with a +3 turnover margin.
I won't insult your intelligence by telling you why turnovers matter. It's really quite simple: you get more possessions than your opponent, giving you more opportunities to score points and taking away opportunities for them to score points. (Oops, I just insulted your intelligence by telling you why turnovers matter...forgive me). I will tell you how the Dolphins sized up in this 7-season cohort:
2012: 24th...2011: 24th...2010: 29th...2009: 26th...2008: 1st...2007: 23rd...2006: 13th.
Only 2006 had the statistical anomaly - this was the year Nick Saban gave us blue balls by darting for Alabama (no offense HoneyB...you know what I mean). I'm sure you remember the 2008 season, if only because it's the last time we made the Playoffs since 2001. I know it was a painful Playoff game, but we set a then NFL record with fewest turnovers in a season. A lot of our success that year got chalked up to the Wildcat, but most of you football geeks know that it was due to our turnover differential. Many pundits can chalk the Dolphins lack of success to talent, QB play, and what-have-you...and they aren't necessarily wrong. But Exhibit A of the Dolphins futility rests in how many extra possessions we gave the other team. Philbin is right to address this issue as Enemy #1.
Which brings us to THIS year, the only year that matters. We barely escaped being in the bottom quartile in the league in turnover ratio last year. Here are games that Tannehill had turnovers:
Houston, 3 INT's. Loss.
NYJ, 1 INT. Loss.
Arizona, 2 INT's, 1 Fumble lost. Loss.
Tennessee, 3 INT's. Loss.
Buffalo, 2 INT's. Loss.
Seattle, 1 INT. Win.
NE, 1 INT, 1 Fumble lost. Loss.
Of our 7 wins last year, Tannehill had one and only one turnover in 2 games that we won: Seattle and Jacksonville. He had 1 turnover in the home game against New England, which the Patriots narrowly escaped. He had 1 turnover in the home game against the Jets, and Dan Carpenter usually receives the blame for the loss...but in my humble opinion, the blame can just easily go against Tannehill. Keep in mind that Tannehill's INT lead to a LaRon Landry return for a TD after being up 10-0 at halftime. Tannehill shredded the Arizona defense, and yet still had 3 turnovers. Dan Carpenter, again, gets the blame. But he would have never been in that position if it weren't for 3 costly turnovers.
Ironically, I'm a Tannehill believer. I think he understands the importance of taking care of the ball, and "never making the same mistake twice." I think he improves on his ball security and play-making in year 2, avoiding a sophomore slump. Lamar Miller had 0 fumbles in 51 carries. Daniel Thomas is a different story, but I'm willing to give him the benefit on at least 1 fumble considering he was knocked unconscious. Mike Wallace has lost 3 fumbles in 4 years. Our defense was designed for the very purpose of increasing takeaways, both increasing interception and fumble totals of the recent past. Our front 7 has been designed to get after the QB and increase fumbles, while simultaneously increasing the ability to produce interceptions by the (ideal) pass rush putting pressure on the QB. Our front 7, led by Kacy Rodgers and Kevin Coyle, should be one of the most formidable units in the league. Just imagine a pass rush under Rodgers' tutelage of Olivier Vernon, Odrick, Starks, Jordan, and Wake; while also understanding Coyle's emphasis on the secondary with Brent Grimes, Richard Marshall, Jamar Taylor, Reshad Jones, and Chris Clemons. There's no reason to think we can't wreak havoc in the turnover battle, which means...
If we can be in the top half of the league in turnovers, we have a tremendous chance of making the Playoffs. Everything in the off-season has catered to this premise and everything I have seen about training camp has catered to this goal. There's a reason that Philbin keeps bringing up turnovers. It's because winning the turnover battle is even more delicious than the apple turnovers your grandma used to make.
A clink of the beer bottle to you all on the beginning of training camp and I can't wait to be in the trenches with everyone! Fins up! Playoffs here we come...
(And thank you to everyone who has asked about my newborn son. He is healthy, awesome, and a prime candidate to, at the very least, be brainwashed into being a Dolphins fan. I will try to let him do it on his own but I'm not willing to take any chances.)
Lots of love from the Sutton family...