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True Turnover table, Week 12: Three key matchups this week feature massive disparities

November 29, 2018

There are some pretty good prime-time battles in Week 13, each with something on the line for teams currently in the playoff hunt.

The week kicks off with Saints at Cowboys on Thursday. On Sunday, the Chargers and Steelers face off in a key AFC battle at Pittsburgh. And Monday night’s tilt will have a lot riding on it: Washington at Philadelphia, with the NFC East very much up for grabs.

What stood out to me in looking at those three key matchups is that as close as those teams might be matched (with the possible exception of the Thursday game, depending on how you view the Cowboys), there’s a pretty large discrepancy in one key area in all of them.

Oh, yes — our True Turnover differential.

The Saints are our top-ranked team this season, at plus-22. Again for a reminder, the differential is equated by taking a team’s True Turnovers forced (opponents’ lost fumbles, interceptions, missed field-goal tries and fourth-down failures and subtracting them from their own True Turnovers on offense.

The Saints lead the NFL with a stunning 11 True Turnovers on offense. They simply do not give the ball away freely. With only two interceptions by Drew Brees, only one fourth down that came up empty and one FG miss, New Orleans has overcome a relatively high fumble total (seven; only five teams have more this season).

The Cowboys have been improving in our True Turnover table this season, up to a net of plus-1 after spending some time in the negative this season. After starting slowly in terms of forcing defensive turnovers, Dallas now is up to 20. That’s only good for 22nd among all teams, but they were even lower than that until a recent flourish.

But Dallas knows it must be better at taking away the ball from Brees and Co. if it has a chance to steal a win here. The Saints also have a defense that has forced 33 losses of possession, which is tied for the third-most in the NFL — including a whopping 12 fourth-down stops. No other team has more than seven this season, so it reflects how good they are at forcing opponents to be ultra-aggressive against them and preventing comebacks.

The Chargers (plus-10) and Steelers (minus-8) don’t feature quite as large a disparity, but it’s noticeable nonetheless. Even with some kicking issues early in the season, the Chargers are second only to New Orleans in True Turnovers offensively with 15. Six picks, four lost fumbles and one fourth-down failure all are highly respectable numbers.

Pittsburgh’s loss last week came down to a Ben Roethlisberger INT in the waning moments, and he’s suddenly up to 12 for the season now. Along with seven fumbles, it’s fair to say they can be a bit sloppy in terms of taking care of the ball. A healthy Chargers defense surely will be going for takeaways, fully aware of this fact.

And it doesn’t bode well for the Steelers defensively — even with Melvin Gordon out this week — if they can’t take the ball out of the Chargers’ possession. Pittsburgh’s 18 True Turnovers forced are the fewest among all teams in the playoff mix still, except for the Titans and Eagles (both of whom are 5-6).

Speaking of Philly, the Eagles are tied for the third-worst differential in the NFL at minus-11. Only the 49ers, Raiders and Buccaneers — teams that could be drafting in the top 10 next spring — have lower True Turnover differentials.

You wouldn’t say that the Eagles are “sloppy” necessarily, but their nine fumbles lost are the third-most in the NFL, ahead of only the Packers (10) and Jaguars (11). Another area in which they have come up a bit short is on fourth downs, where they’ve gone for it and missed seven times. Only the Packers and Raiders have gone for it and missed more, although it’s hard to argue with Doug Pederson’s aggressive nature slightly working against Philly after it was a staple of their identity during the Super Bowl LII run.

Washington has been surprisingly careful with the ball overall this season, even coming off Colt McCoy’s three-pick Thanksgiving. The team has kept its True Turnovers (20) down offensively, and the defense has forced a very respectable 33 True Turnovers (same as the Saints, tied for third in the NFL).

Can McCoy be as thrifty as Alex Smith was at QB? That’s the biggest question. And for the Eagles, can they reverse a brutal trend that has seen them take away a combined five fumbles and INTs in their past nine games?

That could be the difference in this game with division supremacy hanging in the balance. Depending on what happens to the Cowboys on Thursday, Monday’s winner could find themselves in first place — with a Dallas-Philly showdown a week later.

Here is the rest of the True Turnover table through Week 12:

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