Can a defense force turnovers? SI.com looks at the art of fumbles

Earlier this week, Chris Harry at SI.com wrote an article on the art of forcing fumbles. Defenders, such as Charles Tillman of the Chicago Bears, “have used running backs, wideouts and tight ends as their personal canvases to become Picassos when it comes to getting the football on the ground.” The article’s timing was impeccable after San Francisco’s Kyle Williams fumbled two punt returns in an overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game.

But numbers just don’t support the argument that a defense can force fumbles. Bill Barnwell at Grantland found a weak correlation between turnovers in the first 5 games and the last 11 games of an NFL season. (The study found a correlation coefficient r=0.14 over a sample of over 600 NFL teams over 21 years.) Harry actually offers us more evidence. He states that Tillman forced a career high 6 fumbles in 2009. Since the Bears faced 1033 plays that season, he had a forced fumble rate of 0.6%. Not a Picasso level of forcing fumbles in my mind.

Have any thoughts? Think that someone needs to do a player based analysis on forcing fumbles? Leave us a comment please.

Note: Sports Reference claims that Tillman forced 6 turnovers in 2009, with 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. It’s not clear whether Chicago recovered any of those fumbles. And, of course, Tillman probably didn’t play in every play in 2009. And he wasn’t near the ball on every play. But the picture is clear: his forced fumble rate was low even in his best year.

For more content, find The Power Rank on Twitter.

Related Posts:

About The Power Rank.
College football rankings.
Can a defense force turnovers?
The Power Rank featured on KALX Spectrum, the science and technology show on UC Berkeley student radio.

NFL Rankings, Week 13

Week 13…  one month to go until the end of the season!

With five games left to play this season, things are certainly heating up but some teams are cooling down.

As mentioned last week, the Bears (#7, 4.24) struggled without Jay Cutler at the helm, and may be at the beginning of a skid with their offense in the very unsure looking hands of Caleb Hanie. Their defense and Matt Forte will keep them in games, but with Hanie looking like Rex Grossman minus the talent, turnovers may kill this team’s hopes of playing in January.

Lucky for the Bears the Lions (#10, 2.00) also lost a star player when Ndamukong Suh decided to curbstomp the Packers’ backup guard Evan Deitrich-Smith on Thursday.  After grabbing Deitrich-Smith’s head and smashing it into the turf a few times, Suh was pulled away from the guard by other players.  Suh was not quite finished and with clear intent stomped on Deitrich-Smith’s arm while the player was still on the ground.  Suh was immediately ejected in the loss, and for the brutality of the infraction as well as his apparent lack of remorse for the act (he later claimed to be trying to regain his balance, but has since admitted his mistake) he has been suspended for the next two games as well.

The Texans (#6, 5.48) are on a roll and with the Colts (#32, -12.10) finally out of their way the AFC South title seems to be in their grasp.  But two weeks ago Matt Schaub’s season ended with an injury, and last week his replacement Matt Leinart, who was playing well, also succumbed to a season ending injury.  Tyler Yates finished the game and is slated to start this week, but Yates is just not the guy to inspire confidence in a team as they come down the homestretch and into a playoff run.  Kellen Clemens has been brought in as a virtual 4th string quarterback in the event that Yates’ season also ends abruptly, but do not expect big things out of either player.  Even though the Texans have thrived on solid defense and a dynamic running game, Yates invites opponents to stack the box against the run and put Houston to the test.  With only a two game lead over Tennessee (#13, 0.86) the Texans might be headed for more heartbreak than glory.

Oakland (#14, 0.30) is playing well and looked good driving the ball against Chicago’s stout defense last weekend.  Unfortunately for them, the Tim Tebow tide is taking over.  The Broncos (#18, -1.25) are nipping at the heels of the Raiders in terms of The Power Rank, and after a four game win streak are only one game behind the division leader, and are only one game out of the second wild card spot as well.  The real secret to Tebow’s success, unless you believe in divine intervention, is a combination of an emerging defensive powerhouse led by this year’s second-overall draft pick, Von Miller, and Tebow’s excellent ball security.  Denver’s defense has allowed Tebow’s anemic offense to win games in spite of averaging less than 20 points per game.  It’s not so much that Oakland is hurting…  in fact, they are doing fairly well under veteran replacement Carson Palmer.  It’s more that Denver seems to be getting hot at the right time.  If they keep their momentum going Oakland may take a back seat in the division and miss a shot at the playoffs.

Finally, the Giants (#17, -0.70) are starting to match their record with their mediocre rank on The Power Rank.  Our numbers have shown them to be overachievers all season long, and they have finally allowed slow starting Dallas take control of the NFC East with their recent three game losing streak.  With a probably loss at home against Green Bay (#1, 12.54) this weekend, the Giants will fall to 6-6, a mediocre .500 record that matches their inconsistent play this year.

Expect these downward trends to continue as the season winds down.

NFL Rankings, Week 12

Rodgers, Manning twice
Quarterback, changes destiny
Happy Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving Power Rank readers!

Here are the rankings for tomorrow’s menu:

1.  Turkey legs  10.43

2.  Stuffing  8.74

3.  Turkey breast  5.21

4.  Mashed potatoes and gravy  4.98

5.  Pumpkin Pie  3.16

6.  Cranberry sauce  -25.47

Just kidding!

On a more serious note, here is something I’m very thankful for this year:  19 years of the Packers (#1, 12.14) having a future Hall of Fame quarterback under center.  Not every fan base is as lucky as the one I am proud to be a part of, and it is good to reflect on that unbelievable fortune from time to time.

The Colts (#32, -12.18) are at the opposite end of that spectrum, losing their future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to neck problems this year, sending them from a top-tier AFC powerhouse to the worst team in the league by almost every metric available.  For fans who have seen Peyton taking snaps every week since 1997, this season is quite a shock to the system.

Other teams haven’t been so stable at the quarterback position over the years, and their ups and downs have shown it.  The Bears, for instance (#5, 5.39) have always seemed to have trouble finding a reliable trigger in spite of years of talented defenses and running backs.  Chicago fans largely applauded the coming of Jay Cutler, the best quarterback talent the Windy City has seen since Jim McMahon.  Now Cutler is likely out for the rest of the regular season, and possibly a portion of the postseason, with an injured thumb.  The Power Rank has been measuring the Bears success with a competent starter leading the offense. With backup Caleb Hanie, their true power is likely diminished, which will show in the coming weeks both in their record and in their ranking.  For this week, do not count on the raw numbers as Chicago is favored over Oakland (#17, -1.15) by 4.5 on the road.

Another team made a big change under center this week.  The Kansas City Chiefs (#31, -8.22) have acquired the benched Kyle Orton from their division rival Broncos (#22, -2.35) to fill in for an injured Matt Cassel.  Tyler Palko was given a shot on Monday night to take the reigns, but a performance that yielded no touchdowns and three interceptions sent the Chiefs looking elsewhere.  Personally, I believe that not only is Orton an upgrade over Palko, he’s an upgrade over Cassel.  This is sure to be controversial, but I think Orton can deliver a ball to gifted receivers, which the Chiefs have in Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston.  It may not be enough for them to beat the Steelers (#8, 3.71) this week, but it may be enough for the Chiefs to start climbing out of the cellar and back into playoff contention.

Finally the Eagles (#13, 1.59) have been struggling all year, but managed to beat the Giants (#14, 0.99) with backup quarterback Vince Young last week.  This improbable loss helped bring the Giants’ division leading record closer to what the Power Rank has expected of the G-Men all year (mediocrity) and they are now tied for the lead with Dallas (#10, 2.85).  The Power Rank has considered the Cowboys a strong team all season in spite of a slow start with a tough schedule, but as things shake out they are rising to the top and The Power Rank expects this trend to continue.

That is, of course, assuming that Cowboys fans give their thanks tomorrow to ensure that Tony Romo can stay healthy for the remainder of the season!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

NFL Rankings, Week 8

This week I am going to take a page out of the Fox News playbook.

Hey?  Where are you going?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell you Food Insurance.  I just want to focus this week’s discussion on the key battleground divisions the way news networks look at swing states while ignoring the rest of the country.  So Rams fans can breathe easy, I won’t be taking so many shots at your team this week.  Besides, you should all still be celebrating the (baseball) Cardinals victory!

Battleground Division #1 – NFC North

The NFC North is stacked with talent this year, led by the Super Bowl champion and The Power Rank leader Green Bay Packers (#1, 11.55).  Normally having a team like the Packers in a division would settle matters, but this year it does not.  The reason is that the Lions (#4,  5.17) are right on the Packers’ heels, and the Bears (#9, 3.78) are not that far behind.  That’s three top ten teams in one division.  The Lions may have a hard time keeping up their pace especially with their oft-injured quarterback having ankle problems last week, and the Bears are legendary for pulling wins out of thin air.  Just ask Dennis Green!  Even if the Packers’ high level of success continues and they lock up the division title early, the Bears and Lions will both still likely be in the playoff hunt, in fact if the playoffs started today both teams would receive a wildcard berth.  With a lot of division games left the NFC North division is going to be an interesting one to watch.

Battleground #2 – AFC North

What’s with the North being so good at football?  Although the AFC North doesn’t feature three top ten teams as the NFC North does, it comes very close.  This division is led by the Baltimore Ravens (#3, 7.80) but they are actually a half-game behind the Steelers (#11, 2.58) and only a half game ahead of the Bengals (#12, 1.69).  Now, I know nobody talks about the “top twelve” of any lists, but it is nonetheless impressive that this tight grouping all falls within the top 12 teams in The Power Rank.  It’s hardly a revelation to NFL fans that the Steelers and Ravens are going to be battling for a division title, or that the loser is likely to grab a wildcard spot.  What is unlikely is the upstart Bengals sticking their noses into the mix.  With a third solid team to contend with the Steelers and Ravens will not be able to take anything for granted this season, and the fight for a playoff berth may get ugly in this division that is known for misconduct both on and off the field.

Battleground #3 – NFC East

The NFC East doesn’t carry nearly as many strong teams as the NFC and AFC North divisions do, but with some schedule oddities the team that The Power Rank picks as the clear division favorite is lagging behind in the actual standings.  The Cowboys (#8, 3.85) should be running away with this division in light of the fact that their closest competition should be the Eagles (#18, -0.89) who are also struggling to find wins.  Instead the Giants (#24, -3.29) are leading the division with a 4-2 record.  True, it’s early in the season.  And yes, we at The Power Rank do think that as things shake out the Cowboys’ record will start to match their apparent strength.  Even so, with poor starts from teams with high expectations and surprising starts from teams with low ones, everyone is in the mix here and every game is going to be an especially heated contest.

Non-Battleground – AFC East

The Power Rank is scheduled to get some East Coast bias with our next software upgrade.  If you want to hear how this is the only division that matters this year (or any other) tune into ESPN.  We apologize for the inconvenience.  Sure, the AFC East has a lot of strength in top ten teams New England (#2, 9.77) and New York (#7, 4.36) but in spite of what some sports news anchors would have you believe, this is not news.  The addition of the up and coming Bills (#16, 0.41) is shaking some fans’ confidence in the Patriots and Jets getting their perennial playoff spots, but The Power Rank thinks otherwise.  The Bills are indeed a good team right now but good is not enough in a division that has contained two top ten (and usually top five) teams for the last few years.  This division will get down and dirty where it normally does (in the playoffs) with the teams it normally sends (the Pats and Jets).  Until then, my attention will be elsewhere.

NFL Prediction, Conference Championships

Green Bay will beat Chicago by 2.7 on the road

Pittsburgh will beat New York Jets by 3.8 at home

The predictions were 1 of 2 last weekend in the Divisional Playoff games. We won on Green Bay, lost on the New York Jets, and chose not to bet on the other two games.