Turnovers are the statistic coaches and fans alike consider gospel as a key to success. How will a team win this week? Win the turnover battle! But what if we have been using turnovers all wrong this entire time? A traditional turnover is through a fumble or interception. There are many more possessions in a game that do not end in an interception or fumble, so how can we say that the key to winning football is winning the turnover battle?
We have seen by studying the past that turnovers year to year are fluid, with the teams at the top and the bottom frequently changing. Therefore, it is safe to say that turnovers are not an accurate measure of future success. In short, they are mostly unpredictable.
In 2014, the top 4 teams in turnover ratio: Green Bay, New England, Houston, Seattle. The bottom 4: Oakland, New Orleans, Washington, NY Jets.
In 2015, the top 4 teams in turnover ratio: Carolina, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Arizona. The bottom 4: Dallas, Baltimore, Tennessee, Jacksonville.
Every single team is completely different. So how can we attempt to alter traditional turnover metrics to make them predict future success?
This is where I would like to introduce True Turnovers. True Turnovers is a combined measure of traditional turnovers (fumbles and interceptions) with punts that creates a more accurate efficiency measure of success. This is used to determine who the most efficient offenses, defenses, and teams are at turning over the football. It is also much more effective than previous measures at predicting future success.
By taking every chance a team has at turning the ball over, and forcing a turnover on defense into consideration, we can determine how truly efficient a unit or team is at sustaining drives and getting off the field on defense.
Take Oakland as an example. Most believe this is an elite offense that carries a poor defense to wins. However, according to their True Turnover measures, this is not the case. The Oakland Offense comes in 12th in the league at 5.64 True Turnover Giveaways per game. This means that their combined punts, fumbles and interceptions per game is 5.64. Their defense actually comes in at 6th in the league in True Turnovers Forced. They force 6.5 True Turnovers per game. What this shows is that they force more True Turnovers than 26 other teams in the league. They are very good at getting off of the field.
Another area of True Turnovers that can be utilized is True Turnover Differential. This combines the True Turnovers Forced and subtracts True Turnover Giveaways into a single metric that measures how efficient your overall team is.
Obviously, you want your defense forcing more turnovers than you want your offense giving away, so the higher the number, the more efficient your team is. This can be used to determine which teams are more lucky than good, and which teams are more unlucky than bad.
Since sports phenomena almost always regress to the mean, you can expect this luck to fall back to the average. Thus, the unlucky, yet extremely efficient teams begin to win more, and the lucky but not efficient teams fall back down to earth. A great example of this is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 8 games into this season, they were 3-5. Yet, they came in at the #9 overall team in the NFL in True Turnover Differential. This means that they were extremely efficient as a team, but were simply losing in unfortunate ways. This was bound to regress to the mean, and were my favorite pick to go on a run to the postseason. Since their 3-5 start, Tampa Bay is 5-1 and in the thick of the playoff hunt. Simply put, being efficient on both sides of the ball is much more predictive of future success than other individual measures such as traditional turnovers.
Granted, competition and match ups week to week matter, and numbers are not always completely accurate. Sometimes these metrics don’t match up with real world results. What True Turnovers attempts to do is dive deeper into how efficient teams truly are by expanding on traditional turnovers into a more predictive measure. By using this metric we can assess how our perceptions of a team’s or unit’s efficiency compares to their efficiency in reality.