In BenJarvus Green-Ellis' four years as a New England Patriot, he never fumbled the ball once. Now that he's a Cincinnati Bengal, the running back has had three fumbles in his last two games. So what has changed?
It can't just be that he's with a different team—there has to be more at work than Green-Ellis simply wearing another uniform. Let's take a closer look at what could have caused these recent and unpleasant developments.
More Snaps, More Carries
It makes logical sense that the more carries a running back gets, the greater his chances to fumble, and that's certainly at play here with these three turnovers from Green-Ellis this season.
As a Patriot, Green-Ellis never played more than 472 offense snaps in a season (that was in 2011), while through four games with the Bengals, he's already been on the field for 202 snaps. Of course, with more snaps comes more carries. He's had 82 of them thus far, an average of 20.5 carries per game.
With New England, Green-Ellis never averaged more than 13.2 carries per game (this was his career high in 2010, counting one playoff game). The Patriots didn't require much running to get the ball moving, and his heaviest workloads came when New England had a lead to maintain and clock to kill.
Though the Bengals are a pass-heavy offense, they do rely on the run game more than the Patriots did during Green-Ellis' tenure with that team. Furthermore, Green-Ellis has had to carry the Bengals rushing load basically on his own.
Bernard Scott missed the first two weeks with a hand injury and then hurt his ankle after just three carries in Week 3. With no other back on the Bengals roster able to effectively handle 10 or 15 carries per game, Green-Ellis has been the team's primary option.
The more touches, the more chances to lose the ball: That's one explanation for Green-Ellis' fumbling problem.
He's a Massive Target
It's not just you, me, Green-Ellis and the Bengals who knew that Green-Ellis hadn't fumbled in 589 carries—so did every defense tasked with stopping him. Though Green-Ellis has generally been well known for his ability to keep the ball protected while running, that's not going to prevent any would-be tackler from trying to get in there and strip or punch the ball out of his hands.
His lack of fumbling made him a bigger target than other running backs. Sure, a ball carrier with a history of fumbles is enticing for a defender looking to create a turnover, but to force one on a back who has built a name off of ball security is a legitimate trophy.
The longer Green-Ellis went without fumbling, the harder everyone would thus try to make it happen. That's just how it goes in the NFL, and though it seems simplistic, it shouldn't be left out of the equation.
More carries and opposing defenses well aware that he's never turned it over? It shouldn't be all that surprising that Green-Ellis finally fumbled the ball.
One fumble is understandable when Green-Ellis hadn't done it at all as a pro. But three in two weeks?
Obviously, Green-Ellis was a bit shaken by that first fumble, but vowed that he'd never do it again (via NBC Sports). Then he went and fumbled twice in the following week, including once at the Jacksonville Jaguars 1-yard line that otherwise would have been a Bengals touchdown.
No, Green-Ellis didn't cost the Bengals a victory either week, which has helped save him from fan vitriol for the most part, but turnovers are costly regardless of what the opposing team does with them. So why didn't he bounce back from that Week 3 fumble?
Just look at his comments in the above-linked article. Green-Ellis says that he let down his teammates and "the entire Bengals organization," and concedes that he didn't secure the ball in the way he expects himself to do, every play. These aren't uncommon words for a player to utter, but coming from Green-Ellis in this manner, one can tell he was dwelling on that fumble.
Overthinking is how quarterbacks can throw picks, how defenders can miss tackles and how coaches can make the wrong call. It's quite possible that Green-Ellis was so caught up in how he didn't manage to hold onto the ball against the Redskins on that one play that he was too aware of the ball against the Jaguars.
No longer was he automatically protecting the ball—he was actively thinking about it, lest he make another mistake, and the result was two more fumbles.
The trope of players and coaches saying that they must move on from disappointments, keep them in the past and move forward to the next opponent is more than just a sports cliche—it's also an important tool in preventing teams from dwelling on past mistakes in an effort to not repeat them.
Green-Ellis' two subsequent fumbles in Week 4 may not be entirely a result of him worrying about ball control, but clearly if it was in the forefront of his mind, it wouldn't have helped matters much. A player like Green-Ellis, who spent the vast majority of his professional career not turning the ball over, knows what he needs to do to keep the football secure.
He just needs to keep doing what he had been doing over the past four years and he should bounce back. But if he continues to beat himself up over the turnovers, it won't help him reverse this recent pattern.
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