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Can the Detroit Lions banish the turnover bug?

Can Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions flip their turnover situation around to help them return to their winning ways in 2013?

Can Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions flip their turnover situation around to help themselves win big in 2013?

Yesterday, WCSN’s own Russ Thomas pointed to turnovers as the leading cause for Detroit’s regression from 2011, when the Lions went 10-6 and earned a playoff berth, to 2012, when the Lions finished 4-12, earning themselves a top-five draft pick.

On the surface, the numbers are astounding. The Detroit Lions went from having a +11 turnover differential in 2011 (fourth best in the NFL) to having a -16 turnover differential in 2012 (third worst in the NFL). A swing of 27 turnovers, along with the loss of seven defensive touchdowns, could definitely be seen as a major culprit behind the six-game slide.

Today, I want to add some perspective on the argument by looking at the last three seasons in which the Detroit Lions have fielded mostly the same team. Here are the raw numbers.

First glance

YearTurnoversTakeawaysDifferentialRecord
20102529+46-10
20112334+1110-6
20123317-164-12
It appears the key to Detroit winning is for Calvin Johnson and the Lions offense to avoid turning the ball over.

It appears the key to the Detroit Lions winning is for Calvin Johnson and the offense to avoid turning the ball over.

It’s easy to see that 2011 was by far Detroit’s best year for turnovers. In 2010 they were slightly above average, ranking 11th out of 32 NFL teams, while in 2012 they were terrible. Not coincidentally, 2011 was also the year in which Detroit experienced the most success. Overall, 2010 and 2011 seem to be fairly similar, only with things breaking a little better in 2011 than 2010, while 2012 does indeed appear to be an anomaly.

Further breakdown

I want to take a moment to break down the 2011 numbers a little bit. The Detroit Lions got off to a roaring 5-0 start in 2011, taking advantage of a weak slate of opponents who would finish with a combined 30-50 record). Detroit quickly faded, however, finishing 5-7 over their final 12 games (including their playoff loss).

Do the turnover numbers help account for this change? For the purposes of this table, 2011a is their 5-0 start, while 2011b is their remaining 12 games.

YearTurnoversTakeawaysDifferentialRecord
2011a411+75-0
2011b2125+45-7

It would appear that the turnovers were extremely different for Detroit in their hot 2011 start compared to the rest of the season. The Detroit Lions were outstanding at protecting the ball in their first five games that year, turning it over less than once per game. In the remaining 12 games, they racked up almost two turnovers per game, a rate on par with their 2010 and 2012 numbers.

Meanwhile, the rate at which they forced turnovers did not change much. This following table extrapolates the two data sets from 2011 to full 16-game seasons and compares them to 2010 and 2012.

YearTurnoversTakeawaysDifferentialRecord
20102529+46-10
2011a1335+2216-0
2011b3136+57-9
20123317-164-12

Here we can see a clear correlation between turnovers and team success for the Detroit Lions. When they forced a lot of turnovers and did not turn the ball over (early 2011), they were an outstanding team. When they forced turnovers at a slightly higher rate than they turned the ball over (2010 and late 2011), they were a slightly below-average team. When they turned the ball over a lot and failed to force turnovers (2012), they were a terrible team.

Looking forward

What does this mean for the Detroit Lions in 2013 and beyond? Probably not much. Every team knows it needs to take care of the ball and force turnovers to win games in the NFL. What might be the most sobering truth for Detroit fans is that the Lions were not able to consistently win games even when they had a slightly positive turnover differential.

Can a new wave of talent including safety Glover Quin (pictured) help the Detroit Lions win games when they're not dominating the turnover battle?

Can a new wave of talent including safety Glover Quin (pictured) help the Detroit Lions win games when they’re not dominating the turnover battle?

It should be noted, however, that there are certainly some mitigating factors that can be taken into account here.

Like all NFL teams, Detroit has faced some key injuries in the last three years, and that first five-game stretch of 2011 was the only time when they had their three best offensive players — quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and running back Jahvid Best — and three best defensive players –defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Louis Delmas, and cornerback Chris Houston — all healthy and on the field at the same time.

Best is now retired and Delmas still has such bad knees that he is eternally questionable to play, so these six players will never be healthy together. The Lions have worked around this by adding new talent to help replace those players: running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin, and defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Keeping their key players as healthy as possible would go a long way towards helping this team reach its potential.

But the bottom line is that, outside of one magical five-game stretch to start the 2011 season, Detroit has not shown the ability to consistently win games in many years. Expecting them to suddenly return to that peak form is not incredibly realistic.

Unless the new wave of young talent finds a way to push them over the top, Detroit is probably neither as good as they seemed in 2011 nor as bad as they seemed in 2012. So which squad will they more closely resemble in 2013?

235 comments
LKP
LKP

The only manipulation of stats is woude breaking down first 5 and then extrapolating.

Fact 25, 23 and 33 turnovers. 33 was the fluke in 2012.

Fact 29, 34 and 17. 17 was the fluke in 2012

This Detroit team will force turnover and will protect the ball. They have enough talent to move the ball well, score and make stops on defense. They WILL make the playoffs if healthy.

2012 was a fluke. Woudes table helped to prove it for me

BearsSaveLives
BearsSaveLives moderator

Things got a little dicier in 2009. Rodgers had 11 wins, 4 against above-500, 7 against sub-500.

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

Time for me to go and prance around in my Klan robes. Later.


natesweet
natesweet moderator

"Of course. The point is that chart isn't nearly the slam dunk people make it out to be without some kind of context. It's good for nothing more than mindless shit talking." -Rourke

Now, when you consider the ranting that has been done by one resident author, you would get the impression that Stafford is a world beater mired by constant flukes. I don't see the flukes. I don't see a world beater. I see a guy who is capable of putting up big numbers with very little substance behind them. I see a QB whose team can not beat any of the other teams in the division when they are having a good season. If you can't beat the best in your division what chance have you got at getting the kind of respect you want your team to have?

BearsSaveLives
BearsSaveLives moderator

So, I crunched the numbers. Aaron Rodgers had 6 wins in 2008, 3 against sub-500 teams, 3 against above-500 teams.

FalconsFan0125
FalconsFan0125 moderator

South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is still so fuckin funny. 

Buhlitz
Buhlitz

LKP is Martin Mayhew trust me. There has been no evidence that says otherwise.

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused moderator

 NSA FILES:

LKP showed up to fight until Rourke decided to argue for Stafford's winning %, then LKP disappeared.

CIA profiling experts agree: LKP = Rourke

FalconsFan0125
FalconsFan0125 moderator

Judges have bigger EGOs than every athlete combined. 

Maized and Confused
Maized and Confused moderator

That pic below looks oddly like MIB and Prep at first glance.

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

I don't know how many of you get NFL network, but they have recently been running adds by a law firm, asking ex/retired players to join a class action suit against the NFL. 

It seems odd that they would run these adds. Are they required by discrimination laws?

LKP
LKP

@Um... I see a hater of Stafford. He's an elite QB

Buhlitz
Buhlitz

I agree with all of it

natesweet
natesweet moderator

@Happy 100th !! The chart does point out that Stafford is more likely to throw an INT to the Packers than any other team in the league.

G & G
G & G moderator

@Um... Matt Stafford is FUCKING OVERRATED!

My Opinion!!!

LKP
LKP

@BearsSaveLives @Happy 100th !! If he finished the games in 2010 he wins both of them. 2012 fluke turnovers. 2011 down the stretch he played well. Refs handed San Fran that game. Base on Staffords play his record should be much better than 1-23. 2013 will show that

natesweet
natesweet moderator

@Happy 100th !! @Um... It seems like if a QB throws as much as he does he's bound to put up some impressive numbers now and then.

 ЯD
ЯD

@Draji, the D is silent Of course. The point is that chart isn't nearly the slam dunk people make it out to be without some kind of context. It's good for nothing more than mindless shit talking.

 ЯD
ЯD

@Maized and Confused Sure, but I would be willing to bet cash that the preponderance of his victories are against losing teams and the preponderance of his losses are against winning teams. 

 ЯD
ЯD

@jwoude23 Bear Down I'll bet Aaron Rodgers' record wasn't a whole hell of a lot better his first couple of years. One of the constant charges people brought against him was that he couldn't get it done against the better teams.