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True Turnover Table, Week 2: Bengals vault to the top of NFL

September 20, 2018

Last week we introduced you to PFW’s new True Turnover table, which we feel more accurately displays how many possessions each team forfeits. In short, we’re not just counting net fumbles and interceptions; we’re also charting missed field-goal attempts and fourth-down failures as a more accurate representation of how well teams control the football.

And after Week 2′s kicker debacle, especially in the Browns’ loss and the Vikings’ tie, this number takes on added value.

But first, let’s take a look at the biggest riser from Week 1 to Week 2 — the Cincinnati Bengals. After one game, they sat at plus-1 (tied for 11th). But following a statement victory last Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals have vaulted to the top of the list at plus-6, pushing past the New York Jets.

Here are the full numbers after two games:

The Bengals had a clean sheet against the Ravens with zero True Turnovers, and the Ravens essentially handed them five additional possessions with a fumble, two picks and two failed fourth-down tries. That’s a good way to dig a 28-7 hole for yourself and make a short-week road comeback that much tougher.

The Ravens were tied for third (plus-3) after one week but fell all the way to tied for 25th at minus-2. Remember, the Ravens led the NFL in True Turnover differential last season at plus-23, so last week appeared to be pretty uncharacteristic.

Here are some other Week 2 True Turnover notes:

• That’s now three lost fumbles for the Patriots in two games — only the Saints (four) have more so far. New England lost only four all of last season, which was second-best in the league behind the Chiefs (three). The Patriots are now at a net zero in True Turnovers after Week 2; they were second in the NFL in that statistic in 2017 at plus-20, just behind the No. 1 Ravens. Bill Belichick defended his decision not to go for it on fourth-and-1 with just over eight minutes left in the 31-20 loss to the Jaguars, believing his team could get the ball back for two more possessions.

Belichick also passed up a chance to onsides kick near the end of the third quarter after the Patriots had cut the lead to 24-10. What made an onsides-kick attempt so alluring was the fact that the Jaguars had committed a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the extra-point try, so the Patriots were kicking off from midfield. A failed onsides kick might have placed the ball around the Jacksonville 40-yard line. Stephen Gostkowski’s kickoff went into the end zone, so the ball came out to the 25.

We felt like that was a missed opportunity for Belichick and the Patriots there; the eventual net loss of about 15 yards in field position, we feel, were worth the risk at that point, with momentum shifting a bit. The Jaguars went three-and-out after that, and the Patriots kicked a field goal on their next possession, so you can’t say it didn’t benefit New England slightly. But we might have rolled the dice a bit on the road against a tough opponent.

• The No. 3 team in True Turnovers in 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs (tied with the Philadelphia Eagles at plus-17), are back in a similar position early in the 2018 campaign. They’re at plus-3, tied for fourth with four other teams. Many felt the Chiefs could take a step back in this department with young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes taking over for the risk-averse Alex Smith. But so far, the Chiefs are maximizing their possessions, having turned it over a league-best one time. (By comparison, the Lions are last in the NFL with 11 True Turnovers — yeesh.) So yes, we should be trumpeting Mahomes’ brilliant start so far. It has been an absolute blast to watch. But we also should be taking note of how you help out a limited defense, and their True Turnover number is a sliver of that equation. You can’t miss opportunities against the Chiefs, or they’ll turn the lights out on you fast.

• The Buccaneers have given up three possessions so far: one each by fumble, interception and a missed field goal. They’ve forced four fumbles on defense, earned a fourth-down stop and been gifted two missed field goals by opponents. You can’t ignore that as part of why they’re 2-0. This team was pretty careless with the football last season, especially with fumbles (13) and interceptions (14), and they frankly got a bit unlucky last year with only four missed field-goal attempts against them (only four teams had fewer). Those are the subtle differences between winning and losing games, and the Bucs found that out all too well in going 3-7 in contests decided by one score in 2017. This year, they’re now 2-0 in that department. As great as Ryan Fitzpatrick and this Bucs passing game has been, don’t overlook the turnover factor in their success.

• The Miami Dolphins are another team that is 2-0 with two one-score victories. Both have come at home, and they’ve come in other favorable circumstances, such as Week 1 being delayed twice by weather concerns (and Titans QB Marcus Mariota getting hurt), along with facing Sam Darnold in Week 2 in only his second career start.

But let’s not overlook a Dolphins defense that suddenly has intercepted five passes, forced a fumble and stopped opponents on fourth downs twice through two games. That’s eight True Turnovers they’ve forced, which is a terrific start. Last season, the Dolphins forced 29 — only four NFL teams had fewer. The Dolphins still must play the Patriots twice, the Bengals, Packers, Vikings, Jaguars and others; it’s not an easy schedule, really. But keeping up their solid plus-3 True Turnover ratio will help them in a big way. One huge reason they fell to 6-10 a year ago was finishing minus-19 in that category.

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