We see that trajectory, yes? Bad, fine, fine, pretty bad. Those numbers are where the Los Angeles Rams ranked in turnovers in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. The records those years were 4-12, 11-5, 13-3, and 9-7. Bad, good, great, fine. It doesn’t line up perfectly but what if we focus on interceptions?
Well, no team threw fewer interceptions than the 2017 Rams who went 11-5 and ranked first in points scored. Jared Goff’s interceptions went up in 2018, from seven to 12, but LA improved by two wins. It seems like there wouldn’t be much correlation then but notice that the Rams were 8-0 when Goff didn’t throw a pick that season compared to 5-3 when he did.
In the playoffs, Goff fumbled twice and threw two picks over three games, including during the Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. The Rams went from their regular season average of 33 points per game to a hair under 20 points per game in the postseason.
Then in 2019, LA dropped to 24.6 points per game and ranked 25th in interceptions. Goff threw 16 completions to the other team last season and the Rams went 4-6 when that happened compared to 5-1 when it didn’t. During that one loss in which Goff didn’t throw a pick, he went 13-of-24 for 78 yards and was sacked four times by the San Francisco 49ers; he fumbled twice and lost one of those to the defense. Not exactly perfect.
Last season, 31 teams had at least one game with zero turnovers, the lone exception being Pittsburgh Steelers turned it over every week. (The Steelers defense was also first in takeaways, hence why they nearly made the playoffs anyway.) Of those 31 teams, three teams went 5-0 when they didn’t turn the ball over: the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles.
In all cases, playoff teams. The Patriots and Eagles certainly seemed to be punching above their weight class too. Every one of those wins was important. Then two teams went 4-0 when they held onto the ball: the 49ers and the Rams.
It is of course not surprising to anyone that teams are more successful when they don’t turn the ball over. What is maybe more surprising is that Washington went 2-4 when they didn’t turn the ball over and the Detroit Lions were 1-3. The Arizona Cardinals had seven such games but only won four of those.
And just a single turnover can make a difference.
The Rams went 2-3 when they turned the ball over one time. Not quite as lucky as the Baltimore Ravens, who went 5-0 in those games. The Niners were 4-1, the New Orleans Saints were 6-2. Detroit and Washington both went 0-4 there. For LA, what about those cases of “What could have been?”
Four turnovers in the 55-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two turnovers in the one-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Four turnovers in the five-point loss to the Steelers. One turnover in the 34-31 loss to San Francisco — a pick-six thrown by Goff late in the first half.
The five teams who had the fewest turnovers last season went 13-3, 13-3, 14-2, 12-4, and 12-4.
Yes, it is obvious: protect the football. But winning the turnover battle somehow still gets lost in the search for a better offensive line, a healthier running back, a dynamic wide receiver. What are all those things for? It is not simply to score more points. Protecting the football means also not allowing more points.