FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots, as per usual, are doing a fantastic job of avoiding giveaways on offense this season.
The Patriots rank seventh in the NFL with just .8 giveaways per game. That’s just .2 off from the Buffalo Bills, who rank first, and it’s 1.4 off from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who rank last.
Yet the Patriots’ turnover margin per game ranks 15th at plus .1. That’s because their defense is just as bad at creating turnovers as their offense is good at preventing them.
The Patriots rank 28th and are one of just seven teams that averages less than one turnover per game. The Patriots have intercepted just 1.31 percent of passes thrown by their opponents, ranking 29th in the NFL, and they have failed at recovering fumbles.
Patriots opponents have fumbled 1.7 times per game, fourth most in the NFL. The Patriots have recovered just 23.53 percent of those fumbles, however, which ranks 30th in the NFL.
Some of that is just bad luck. A football is an oblong-shaped object that bounces as it pleases. This fact is not lost on Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“I mean the ball can bounce however it bounces,” Belichick said. “The more guys you have there, then the better chance you have of getting it. Sometimes it could be one against three, and it bounces to the one guy and he makes the play. But, you know, you’ve got to recover it, too.
“The ball is not easy to get. We’ve all seen it squirt out. It looks like one player’s going to get it, and somebody else gets it. When we get our chances, we just have to capitalize on them. That’s what we’ll work on going forward.”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower recalled a specific instance when the ball simply bounced the wrong way.
“The Bills game, I hit Reggie Bush, and he tried to do a backward pass to Tyrod Taylor, it bounced right in his hands,” Hightower said. “Sometimes that happens, then a lot of times you have to be more aggressive with the ball being out on the ground. What’s under the pile happens under the pile. Just being able to come out with the ball.”
It seems the luck will flip at some point and the Patriots’ fumble recovery percentage will return to the mean. Hightower said the Patriots are dedicating time to recovering fumbles.
“We’ve been putting more pressure on that,” Hightower said. “Last week (against the San Francisco 49ers), there was a couple times when the ball was out, specifically I know two or three times in my head, (Colin) Kaepernick for one and then two times when the ball was just out and we were maybe a hair of a second late. We weren’t able to get it.
“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. Everybody’s now conscious of trying to get that ball out, that extra swipe of the ball. We’re just going to try to move on from that.”
The Patriots also must start turning pass breakups into interceptions. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Logan Ryan each recently have broken up passes that could have been intercepted.
Increased takeaways could be the key to “fixing” New England’s defense. The Patriots rank third in points allowed with 18 per game, but they’ve let up the 17th most yards per game, indicating they could begin to allow higher scores to better teams. Generating takeaways would stall some of those drives, limiting the yards allowed.
“Creating turnovers and tackling, those are the two biggest things we want to be able to keep building on as the season goes along,” Hightower said. “Being able to give our offense the ball as many times as we can, and then obviously tackling, preventing other teams from getting those extra few yards after contact.”
It sounds simple. But it also could depend on the unpredictable bounce of a football. Fortunately for the Patriots, they take on the turnover-prone New York Jets this weekend.
Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images