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.
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