Turnover differential matters and Tampa Bay’s 2016 season is a case in point.
When the Bucs were 1-3 and heading toward another wasted effort, they’d turned the ball over 11 times and taken possession away only twice – both in Week 3’s home loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The minus-9 turnover differential was among the worst in the NFL.
In the nine games since, the offense has committed just eight giveaways and the defense is flipping the field like crazy. Starting with the four-takeaway performance Week 5 in Carolina, the Bucs have created 23 turnovers during that nine-game span.
They’ve also gone 7-2 since then. Surprise, surprise.
Bucs CB Brent Grimes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“The way they’re taking the ball away, we go from minus-9 after Week 4 with [two] takeaways, to now tied for first in the league,” head coach Dirk Koetter said during Monday’s press conference at One Buc Place. “So considering we [got two] in the first four games, that’s really impressive.”
The Bucs’ latest effort – Sunday’s three takeaway, zero giveaway game – improved their turnover differential on the season to plus-6 and has them ranked sixth in the NFL. As referenced by Koetter, his ball-hawking defense has playing a lead role in that turnaround. Tampa Bay’s now tied with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers atop the league with 25 takeaways on the season (14 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries).
While winning the turnover battle increases the odds of winning the one on the scoreboard, it’s still no guarantee of winning records and postseason berths. The last time Tampa Bay finished the year with a positive differential came in 2013. They were plus-10 but finished 4-12 and tied with the Atlanta Falcons for last place in the NFC South. The Bucs were also plus-3 in 2012 when they finished 7-9.
Those are exceptions that go against the norm, though, and Koetter isn’t ready to watch his team revert to its early season ways.
“These guys are playing with tremendous confidence,” Koetter said of the defense. “They’re playing fast, they’re being aggressive, they believe in each other, and then different guys are stepping up. Everybody’s getting involved in the act.”