Feb 24, 2016, 11:00 AM EDT
Plenty will be written over the next six months or so about what the Redskins need to do to take the next step and become true Super Bowl contenders. But the biggest factor in determining if they rise up NFL power rankings or slide back into their losing ways is their ability to take the ball away on defense and to protect it on offense.
Washington did pretty well in turnover margin in 2015 they finished at a plus-five, with 27 takeaways and 22 giveaways. That was tied for 10th in the NFL. As Scot McCloughan tries to build the team’s talent base, the Redskins will have to continue to be on the plus side of the turnover ratio in order to stay competitive.
Earlier we looked at fumble recoveries and defensive interceptions. Today we’ll look at fumbles lost on offense, how they performed in 2015 and what they’ll need to do going forward. Later we’ll look at Kirk Cousins’ interceptions.
The Redskins put the ball on the ground 26 times in 2015; only three teams fumbled more. Of those, 11 were recovered by the opposition. Five teams lost more fumbles but that really isn’t as bad as it sounds. In all, 16 teams, half of the league, lost between nine and 13 fumbles; the median was nine so the Redskins were just a little worse than the norm.
As you might have guessed, Matt Jones and Kirk Cousins led the team in lost fumbles with four. Cousins’ fumble total is on the high side but it’s not particularly alarming. Six other quarterbacks lost more fumbles and three others lost just as many. Remember that the quarterback handles the ball on every play and the simple odds say that he will fumble more and lose the ball more often than most players.
But Jones’ fumbles were a legitimate issue. Only Doug Martin of the Bucs, who lost five, lost more fumbles than Jones. But it needs to be noted that Martin fumbled five times in 321 touches (288 rush att., 33 receptions), or 1.6 percent. Jones fumbled five times in 163 touches (144/19), a fumble percentage of 3.1 percent. Certainly Jones will have to tighten this up if he is going to continue to play in the NFL.
In addition to Jones and Cousins, the other Redskins to lose fumbles were tight end Jordan Reed, who lost two, and DeSean Jackson. He committed the only special teams turnover of the year against the Cowboys on a punt return that Redskins fans won’t forget.
How much damage did the lost fumbles do? One was returned for a touchdown; that was Cousins fumble in the second quarter of the Bucs game that Howard Jones scooped up and took to the house. On drives following fumble recoveries the Redskins’ opponents scored five touchdowns and three field goals. Only one team, the Bucs, gave up more touchdowns following lost fumbles and seven teams gave up more field goals.
One note on this that you can take however you’d like. Half of the scoring drives against the Redskins following fumbles came in one game. They had a bad day against the Panthers, giving up two touchdowns and two field goals after fumbles. You can’t throw out the bad game when analyzing the numbers but beware that even a 16-game season is small enough of a sample size that one ugly performance on one Sunday can skew what the other 15 games look like.
One other fumble almost certainly cost the Redskins some points. In Week 3 against the Giants Jones appeared to be headed to the end zone but he lost the ball and it went out of bounds in the end zone. That wasn’t a critical situation—at the time the Redskins trailed 25-6 with less than 10 minutes left to play—but it still was a symptom of Jones’ ball security problems.
What can be done to solve the issue going forward? There is no magical solution. Jones needs to learn better ball security. That is something that can be learned. Alfred Morris fumbled nine times in his first two seasons in the league (1.4% of touches) while in the last two years he fumbled just twice (0.4% of touches).
The other end of it is to improve the defense so that they can stonewall the other team after a turnover. Joe Barry and the defensive players will tell you that they needed to stop the Cowboys after Jackson’s fumble and hold them to at worst a field goal. That’s not an impossible task.
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