What went right in 2012: Takeaways

What went right in 2012: Takeaways
February 5, 2013, 11:15 am
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Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir are looking at what went right and what went wrong during the Redskins 2012 season. Go here to see the other posts in the series.

Today, Rich looks at something that went right, the giveaway-takeaway ratio.

2012 results

If you were looking for reasons why the Redskins went 5-11 in 2011 to 10-6 and NFC East champs last year you don’t have to look too far past their turnover ratio. In 2011 they were awful, giving the ball away 35 times and taking it away 21 times, a minue-14 differential that was 30th in the league. They turned the ball over at least once every single game.

The 2012 Redskins flipped that ratio the other way around. Their turnover differential was plus-17.

The improvement came on both sides of the equation. They recovered 10 fumbles and intercepted 21 passes; their total of 31 takeaways was tied for fourth in the NFL. The Redskins were remarkable in terms of holding on to the ball, giving it away just 14 times. That not only was the best in that category in NFL in 2012, it was the fewest turnovers in team history and only five teams in NFL history have had fewer turnovers in a season.

Again, it doesn’t require much research to figure out why the Redskins had so few turnovers. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III attempted 393 passes and threw just five interceptions. He is one of only six players in NFL history to throw at least 375 passes in a season with five or fewer interceptions and the only rookie ever to do so. The previous season Rex Grossman and John Beck threw a combined 24 interceptions.

When it came to fumbles, it looks like the Redskins just had some good fortune. They put the ball one the ground 26 times last year compared to 25 in 2011. But they lost just six of them while in 2011 the other team pounced on 11.

Griffin seemed to maintain his magic touch even when he fumbled. Twice during the season he lost the ball only to see one of his wide receivers recover for a touchdown. Pierre Garçon recovered a Griffin fumble in the end zone in Week 4 and Josh Morgan plucked another one out of the air and scampered 13 yards for a score against the Giants in Week 13.

On the takeaway side of the ledger most of the improvement came on interceptions, particularly from linebackers. In 2011 the Redskins’ linebackers had three interceptions. Last year London Fletcher led the team with five, while Rob Jackson had four and Ryan Kerrigan had one.

The Redskins actually forced nine fewer fumbles in 2012 (17) than they did in 2011 (26). But the ball bounced their way as they recovered 10 last year compared to eight the previous season.

How did this translate to points on the scoreboard? In 2011 the Redskins scored 43 points off of takeaways and opponents scored 83 off of Washington’s giveaways. That was flipped to a 113-51 advantage for the Redskins in 2012.

So net points on turnovers cost them an average of 2.5 points per game in 2011 and gained them an average of 3.9 ppg last year. That is a swing of almost a touchdown per game.

2013 outlook

If Griffin opens the season at quarterback, there is every reason to believe that the Redskins will continue to protect the ball in the passing game. He is unlikely to suddenly start throwing bushels of picks in his second year on the job.

It may be more problematic if Kirk Cousins has to start the season at quarterback while Griffin rehabs his injured knee. In a smaller sample size, he threw three interceptions on 48 pass attempts. He threw two in the fourth quarter of the Falcons game after coming in for a concussed Griffin as the Redskins were trying to overcome a late deficit. Cousin also threw a pick early in his one start against the Browns. Also, Cousins is likely to throw more than did Griffin, who had 120 rushing attempts. Cousins won’t run the ball nearly as much so he probably would pass more.

On the other side of the ball it may be better if they get fewer interceptions. One of the reasons for their healthy pick total last year was that opposing quarterbacks threw at them a league-high 636 times. The secondary was an inviting target, giving up 4511 passing yards, 30th in the NFL. If the pass defense is better that might lead to fewer opportunities for interceptions due to fewer chances to make one.

As far as fumbles go, the Redskins might just have to hope that their luck holds up. If you look at fumble statistics over the years, they show that the fumbling team recovers the ball about 60 percent of the time and that good (and bad) recovery rates do not tend to hold up for teams from season to season. In short, if you recover a high percentage of fumbles it’s not because of all of those drills you worked on during training camp, it’s because the ball happened to bounce your way.

On offense they recovered 76 percent of their fumbles and on defense they got 58 percent of the other teams’ bobbles. If trends hold and they regress to the average, they will lose about four more fumbles and recover about three fewer.

Still, as long as they can stay out of negative territory in the turnover ratio they should be OK. And Griffin starting the lion’s share of the games just might be enough to assure that they will.