True Turnovers, Week 3: Jets have fallen back after strong start
They opened the season with a stunning plus-6 mark in net True Turnovers, which is defined as net gained fumbles plus net interceptions, net fourth-down failures and net field-goal misses. That allowed them to blast the Detroit Lions on Monday night of Week 1 and start the season off with a bang.
In the two games since then, two one-score losses to the Dolphins and Browns, the Jets have given their opponents four extra possessions. The Lions gifted them five interceptions, two missed field-goal attempts and two failed fourth downs for a shocking nine True Turnovers. In the two games since, the Jets have forced only two True Turnovers — two third-quarter fumbles against the Dolphins that the Jets could not convert into any points.
That’s how you go from 1-0 to 1-2 in a flash. The Jets are still plus-2 for the season, but it’s clear they’re the type of team that has to be far more consistent in terms of not giving possessions away.
Here are the full league True Turnover numbers through Week 3:
Now the Jets head to Jacksonville for a crucial matchup against a defense that was a big-play machine a year ago. Only four teams forced more than the Jaguars’ 42 True Turnovers in 2017 — including a combined 33 interceptions and fumbles. They ran back seven of those turnovers for touchdowns, too. Even with extra time to prepare for this game coming off last week’s Thursday contest, Jets QB Sam Darnold and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who have been uneven to start this year, have big chores in front of them on Sunday.
However, the Jaguars’ numbers have been way down through three games this season. They’ve forced opponents into a mere seven True Turnovers so far, which is tied for 13th-most in the NFL. The Jaguars made two key fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter of the Week 1 win over the Jaguars, and Patriots PK Stephen Gostkowski’s missed 54-yarder helped keep it from being a one-score game late as New England tried in vain to make it interesting.
The only True Turnover the Jaguars could force in a 9-6 home loss to the Titans in Week 3 was a 48-yard field-goal try that Titans PK Ryan Succop missed. Only one of Tennessee’s 21 pass attempts (by starter Blaine Gabbert, who was knocked out, and his injured replacement, Marcus Mariota) was credited as being a pass defended by the Jags. That’s just not enough from this heralded unit.
Week 4 stands as a flashpoint for the Jets and Jaguars. Can Darnold and Co. maximize their possessions in their upset attempt? Or can the Jaguars force more turnovers to a level that’s befitting of their talent on that side of the ball? We shall see. Jets head coach Todd Bowles is starting to feel the heat for his job, and shedding his team’s sudden label for being undisciplined would be a good method of cooling that talk down.
Other True Turnover observations through three weeks of the NFL season:
• The Pittsburgh Steelers have to consider themselves lucky, in a way, to be 1-1-1 prior to a big matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. Pittsburgh has been one of the most undisciplined teams with a league-worst 37 accepted penalties (13, for 155 yards in the 30-27 win over the Buccaneers on Monday) and 10 True Turnovers (four interceptions, three lost fumbles and three missed FG tries). What’s helped them are their opponents also playing sloppy ball against them — 32 penalties (second most in the league behind the Chiefs) and a respectable eight True Turnovers forced (tied for eighth-most). But the Ravens ranked No. 1 in the NFL in True Turnover ratio last season at plus-23, and they’ve been good in that category in their two victories this season. Baltimore uncharacteristically gave the Bengals five extra possessions in Week 2 with a fumble, two picks and two fourth-down failures. But they were plus-4 in wins over the Bills and Broncos in Baltimore. Can they keep things tightened up in Pittsburgh this weekend against a giving Steelers team? That could be the key to the matchup.
• The Browns’ stunning transformation continues. The team that forced a league-low 22 True Turnovers last season already has a whopping 13 — most in the NFL this year — through three games. (The Dolphins and Jets are next at 11 True Turnovers forced, and no other team has more than nine.) Even with some sloppy play in Weeks 1 and 2, the Browns jumped to plus-6 on the season in net possessions gained, tied with Miami and Carolina atop the NFL. It’s not stunning that those three teams have combined to lose only two games this season given those numbers.
• What’s going on with the Vikings? They were a very disciplined team last season, at plus-10 in True Turnover ratio. But after three games they sit at minus-5. Certainly they’ve been dealing with a few things lately with the health of Everson Griffen, and the three missed FG tries by ousted kicker Daniel Carlson really stung, but that doesn’t fully explain what’s going on. Kirk Cousins’ two early fumbles against the Bills were killers, and not being able to force a single missed possession against them was another stunner. Now they face the Rams in a short week in Los Angeles. The undefeated Rams have been a net-zero for the season, with some kicking woes (two missed FGs) and two fourth-down failures hurting them a bit. But if the Vikings have any shot Thursday, they’ll have to capitalize better against a powerful Rams machine in the True Turnover department.
• Only one team has given away a single possession this season. That would be the other unbeaten team in the NFL, Kansas City. Chiefs WR Chris Conley coughed up a fumble with five minutes left in the fourth quarter in Week 2 that the Steelers converted into a touchdown. The Chiefs had been marching into Pittsburgh territory when that happened. Otherwise, it might have been a Chiefs blowout — and that’s the one time in 120 minutes of football that the Chiefs have given their opponent a free possession without punting (which they’ve only done nine times). Want to stop the Chiefs? It’s pretty clear you have to take the ball out of their hands to beat them. Sure, they’ve only forced four True Turnovers (two on missed fourth-down attempts), but that’s been plenty for Patrick Mahomes and this nuclear passing game to put other teams away. Up next: Denver, which is at a net-zero through their three games. Uh oh.