Turnovers are huge difference makers in the NFL. There have been many who have looked at the question. Here’s one example.
There is a positive correlation between turnover differential and winning percentage. We can conclude that 44% of the variation in a team’s winning percentage can be explained by their turnover differential. This shows that turnovers are not overvalued when it comes to winning percentage. ...
But we shouldn’t rest our laurels on winning percentage. Scoring differential is a better indicator of how good a team really is, so let’s see if the same trend holds when we use that as the response instead of winning percentage.
This graph looks almost completely the same. It doesn’t matter if we look at winning percentage or scoring differential, turnovers play a major part in both.
Having said that, how have the Cowboys done in recent seasons in creating turnovers?
2015 was a disaster - the worst turnover totals in Cowboys’ team history. 2016 was better, but only because the Cowboys dramatically increased their fumble recoveries. Interceptions barely changed, going up from a pathetic eight to a dismal nine. Yet in 2014, the team thrived by creating 31 turnovers, second in the NFL, with 18 picks (which would have tied for first last season) and 13 fumble recoveries.
What was the difference?
In 2014, Bruce Carter led the way with five interceptions, J.J. Wilcox had three, Barry Church, Rolando McClain, and Orlando Scandrick each had two, with one each for Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, Mo Claiborne, and Tyler Patmon.
In 2016, Barry Church is the only player with two regular season interceptions, and seven other players had one each - Byron Jones, Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath.
The pass rush certainly didn’t make the difference, as the Cowboys only mustered 28 sacks in 2014, compared to 36 in 2016. Bob Sturm has some nice charts here. Moreover the sack rate for the Cowboys was better in 2016, at one sack for every 18.6 drop backs by opponents versus one for every 20.9 drop backs in 2014.
This year, the secondary is going to look different, although Byron Jones (one career INT and one career forced fumble), Orlando Scandrick (eight INTs in eight years, and seven FFs), Anthony Brown (one INT, one FF) and Jeff Heath (four INTs and two FFs in four years) will return.
The question largely comes down to whether any of the newcomers will get snaps, and get their hands on the ball.
- Nolan Carroll has eight INTs over seven years, with a high of three in 2013. He’s forced two fumbles.
- Chidobe Awuzie had three INTs and six FFs in college.
- Jourdan Lewis scored six INTs over his last three seasons, two each year. He also had one FF.
- Marquez White had four INTs and no FFs in college.
- Xavier Woods is the standout here, with 14 INTs over three years, including years of six, three, and five picks. He also had six FFs.
Interceptions are not just limited to the secondary. As mentioned above, Bruce Carter led Dallas with five picks in 2014. Sean Lee has had two seasons with four picks each. Jaylon Smith only had one pick at Notre Dame, but forced three fumbles.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Dallas can improve in this vital area this year. Perhaps it will merely by regression to the mean, as the number of INTs have been unusually low the last two years. Can Dallas at least get up to NFL average this season? That is burning question number 6.