Few things can torpedo a game quite like a couple ill-timed turnovers. Combined with an inability to create them on defense and you’ve got a recipe for disaster – and losses.
Teams that protect the ball and take it away tend to win. Those that do the opposite typically pay the consequences and stay home after Week 17.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Getty Images
Tampa Bay didn’t waste time getting itself mired in that latter group this season. After the Bucs’ 27-7 disappointment against Denver in Week 4, their minus-9 turnover differential deserved plenty of blame for their 1-3 record.
But then things changed.
Quarterback Jameis Winston nipped his interception issues in the bud, defenders started catching rather than dropping interceptions, and a couple more fumbles bounced the Bucs’ way.
Since winning the turnover battle 4-0 at Carolina in Week 5 (a 17-14 victory), Tampa Bay’s clawed its way back out of the red and sits at even on the season through nine games. During that five-game span from Week 5 to last Sunday against Chicago, the defense and special teams created 13 turnovers and the offense gave away possession just four times.
“The number one way you win or lose is protecting the football,” said Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “We at one point were, I think, a minus-9 five weeks ago and now we’re even. I would’ve never guessed we would have gotten ourselves back to even that fast, but you can see how it flips the game. Last week, all the turnovers we created, and then the one time we did we got it right back with a turnover. So we’ve proven that: If we don’t turn the ball over it gives us a chance to win.”
CB Brent Grimes – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs matched their season-high of four takeaways against the Bears, snatching two of quarterback Jay Cutler’s pass attempts and jumping on a pair of fumbles. Defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. added another forced fumble when he stripped Cutler in the end zone. That didn’t count as a turnover because it wasn’t recovered, but it did result in a safety that expanded Tampa Bay’s lead to 29-10.
If the Bucs plan to continue trending in the right direction, they’ll have to do it against the NFL’s leader in turnover differential. Kansas City enters Sunday’s game plus-14 and is recording takeaways at a league-high rate. The Chiefs’ 22 takeaways lead the league, as do their 13 interceptions.
When asked about his team’s penchant for flipping the field this year, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid shrugged it off a bit during his Wednesday afternoon teleconference with the Tampa Bay media.
“I think everyone probably works on it, but the ball seems to kind of gone our way,” Reid said. “But we’ve had years where it hasn’t gone our way. We work the same amount, so I don’t know. Sometimes these things go in cycles.”
There hasn’t been much back-and-forth cycling going on during Reid’s three-plus-season tenure, however. The Chiefs are plus-43 in turnover differential since he took over in 2013.
Monken addressed Kansas City’s collective nose for the ball and said it starts with personnel.
“They’re really good at it because they have really good defensive players,” he said. “I think that’s first and foremost. They’re disruptive up front which puts the quarterback at risk, not only in the pocket but on throws down the field. And then they’ve got guys on the back end that really do a great job of taking the ball away, stripping it, and challenging the receivers.”
Head coach Dirk Koetter elaborated on Monken’s position later in the day Wednesday.
“When you watch the tape on these guys, especially the red zone tape, wow,” Koetter said. “Inside the 20 they really close it down on you. They’re very aggressive with their hands, they get a lot of balls popped up in the air and somebody else might catch it. Their one safety [Ron Parker] covers like a corner, used to be a corner. [Eric] Berry, the other safety, covers like a corner. Their corners cover like corners. [Marcus] Peters really makes plays on the football. It’s almost like they have four wide receivers back there that are also tough tacklers. These guys are impressive.”