Breaking Down the Patriots' Reliance on the Turnover Battle

Mike Dussault@PatsPropagandaSenior Analyst INovember 12, 2012

Devin McCourty forced two potential game saving turnovers deep in Patriots territory
Devin McCourty forced two potential game saving turnovers deep in Patriots territoryJim Rogash/Getty Images

The New England Patriots' 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills was the ugly kind of win that Patriots fans have become accustomed to over the last three seasons.

The Patriots gave up a ton of yards, through the air and on the ground. They couldn't get off the field on third down. The pass rush pressure was spotty at best. And in a surprise development, they suddenly forgot how to tackle.

However, despite all those problems, they won the turnover battle 3-0 and, as we've learned in recent years, that might be the only defensive stat that really matters.

The Pats have been largely successful playing this maddening style of defense, going 35-10 since 2010, including the playoffs. That's an incredible record considering the Patriots have been near the bottom of the league in almost every defensive metric and statistic out there.

But the plain and simple truth is that the Patriots live or die on turnovers.

Just don't turn the ball over more than once and you'll have a shot against them. Get Tom Brady and the offense to turn it over twice and your odds are even better.

In games where the Patriots offense has two or more giveaways they are 4-5 since 2010, and in that same period they're 8-7 when their defense gets less than two takeaways.

That's right, in seven of their ten losses over the past two-plus years the Patriots have forced just one turnover or less, including zero in both of the last two playoff losses.

The discrepancy is clear, and the Patriots continue to live on the edge this year in a trend that started to dynamically shift the personality of the team starting in 2010.





Skyrocketing Turnover Differential

From 2002 - 2009 the Patriots averaged 29.6 takeaways and 22.9 giveaways per season, for an average net of +6.7.

But they have elevated themselves on both sides of the ball in the last three seasons (projecting 2012 given their current pace which comes out to the exact number of 2010, +28), and they've averaged 37.3 takeaways and 13 giveaways, for an incredible average net of +24.3.

The yards they give up, the pressure, the third down percentage and even the tackling are all ancillary to winning the turnover battle when you play New England.

Of course the yards and pressure feed into their ability to get takeaways, but ultimately this is a slippery slope to exist on, and as we saw in the Super Bowl, turnovers have a way of drying up on the biggest stages.

They've been fortunate to continue winning this way in 2012 in what should be called "The Year of the Forced Fumble." In the last ten seasons no AFC team has topped 18 forced fumbles. The Patriots already have 13.

This illustrates that this year's Patriots are getting their turnovers with physicality more so than the past two years when they were more reliant on interceptions.

If the Patriots have any hope of getting back to, and winning the Super Bowl, they must continue to rely on this turnover trend, but opponents need only be safe with the ball and they'll ensure it's a close game that goes down to the wire.


Mike Dussault is a New England Patriots Featured Columnist and also edits He co-hosts the PatsPropaganda & Frenz podcast with AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz. You can follow him on Twitter here.