Teams that protect the ball win and those that do not suffer the consequences.
Exceptions exist every year but turnover margin is one of the most consistent statistical tellers of potential champs and probable chumps.
Through 11 games, it’s almost like Tampa Bay’s next opponent is trying to validate that theory with its bipolar performance protecting the football.
Atlanta went from early season Super Bowl contender to a team on the outside looking in and its plus-minus turnover margin flip from black to red has played a major role.
“I think for sure the turnovers are factors,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said while speaking to the Tampa Bay media Wednesday. “Some of them even kind of accounting on where they happened, because it wasn’t the points given up on the other end, but it ended up being some of the points that were taken away from where the turnover happened on the drive. So that, for sure, is a factor.”
It’s hard to soften the role turnovers have played in Atlanta’s ongoing demise. In racing out to a 5-0 start, the Falcons took away possession 10 times and gave it away five. They’ve followed that up by losing five of six and turning the ball over 16 times compared to eight created takeaways.
Aside from that, Atlanta’s still looking good on paper. The Falcons rank fifth in total offense (393.1 yards per game), 11th in total defense (338.4), 14th in points scored (23.6) and 13th in points allowed (21.3).
Between quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, plenty of dangerous potential remains packed into this Atlanta offense. How that arsenal can still lay waste to opposing defenses is what Bucs coordinator Leslie Frazier remains focused on heading into Sunday’s home game.
“I think when you look at their stats, people aren’t really stopping their offense,” Frazier said Thursday. “I know they’ve been talking about it all week long – the number of takeaways. If you look at their turnovers prior to our game the first time we played them and you look at how those numbers have jumped in that four-week span – I think they had maybe four turnovers before we played them and it’s up to 21 now. That’s probably the difference, but they are moving the football. They are moving up and down the field. Hopefully we can get some takeaways as well.”
Tampa Bay has been among the top teams in the NFL in terms of generating takeaways this season. The Bucs are one of eight teams with 20 or more, intercepting 10 passes and scooping up 10 fumbles.
Five weeks ago in Atlanta – the trigger game to the Falcons’ four-week tumble – Tampa Bay set a then-season-high with four takeaways. The Bucs 23-20 overtime win would probably have not been possible without those possession changers, especially considering Ryan and the Falcons gouged them for 496 yards of total offense. That’s 83 yards more than any other teams gained against Tampa Bay’s 12th-ranked defense.
“We got the takeaways,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “They got their yards, but Matt Ryan, they’re going to get their yards. You just expect them to get their yards, but the takeaways were huge – a big reason why we won that one.”
Tampa Bay created at least one turnover in each of its first 10 games and had been averaging exactly two turnovers a week before last Sunday’s loss in Indianapolis. Getting back on track in that respect could go a long way in getting back to .500 and sending Atlanta to its fifth straight defeat.
If not, Tampa Bay knows from experience what a comfortable and confident Matt Ryan is capable of doing.
“I think all good players – and in Matt’s case, some great players – can go through times when things just don’t go their way,” Smith said. “We understand that he’s thrown the ball; he’s had a few more interceptions that he normally has. But I’ve seen him a lot of times. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game. It’s always about the next week. We’re preparing for him like he hasn’t thrown an interception all year.”