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Smart Football Leads To Wins

Posted Dec 2, 2013

Plus 8. That's the Eagles' giveaway/takeaway number in the last four games, and not so coincidentally, the Eagles are 4-0 in those games. Sometimes, football is a really easy game to figure out ...

This may be the most telling statistic in all of football, and while we pore over the growing menu of analytics and extrapolations, the giveaway/takeaway difference is the most telling of all.

We saw how giveaways negatively impacted the Eagles in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, when the Eagles went 8-8, they ranked tied for 30th in the NFL in turnover ratio, with 24 takeaways and 38 giveaways. The teams hovering near the bottom of the rankings along with the Eagles that season were Tampa Bay (4-12), Washington (5-11), Arizona (8-8) and Pittsburgh (12-4).

Interestingly, the Steelers won 12 games despite a minus-13 turnover ratio. A deeper look shows that Pittsburgh had a minus-7 turnover ratio in the opening game that season, a 35-7 loss to Baltimore and had a couple of other turnover-heavy contests. In Week 2, Pittsburgh had a minus-2 in turnover ratio and still defeated Indianapolis, a team that finished 1-15 on the season. Then, in Week 15 in a 20-3 loss to San Francisco, Pittsburgh compiled a minus-4 ratio in turnovers. In the remaining 13 games of that season, Pittsburgh was even in giveaways/takeaways and, crucial to know, ranked last in the NFL that season with just 15 takeaways.

In 2012, the Eagles sunk to the very lowest rank in turnover ratio in the NFL with a minus-24. They gave the football away 37 times (15 interceptions and 22 lost fumbles) and had only 13 takeaways (8 interceptions, 5 fumble recoveries).

It's 2013, and the Eagles are playing smart offensively, with only 15 giveaways (7 interceptions and 8 lost fumbles). Only Kansas City (12), Dallas (13), Indianapolis (13), Seattle (15 in 11 games), New Orleans (13 in 11 games) and Tampa Bay (14) have fewer giveaways. The defense has been more and more opportunistic and has registered 22 takeaways (15 interceptions and 7 recovered fumbles).

Add it up and the Eagles have a plus-7 in turnover ratio, good for a tie for eighth-best in the NFL. Here are the teams that rank higher: Kansas City, Dallas, Seattle, Carolina, Tampa Bay, New England and St. Louis.

Tampa Bay and St. Louis are the outliers here, and on the other end of the spectrum Denver (10-2) are at a minus-4 and Detroit is at minus-8 in turnover ratio, but you get the general gist here. The facts are the facts.

Teams have a better chance of winning if they finish on the plus side of the giveaway/takeaway ledger.

How much of a difference does it make? Based on regular-season results from 2010 through this point in the 2013 season, teams that had a plus-1 in turnover ratio won the majority of the time -- 71 percent in 2010, 66 percent in 2011, 67 percent in 2012 and 70 percent in 2013. A margin of plus-2 in the turnover department helps even more, naturally -- 83 percent in 2010, 86 percent in 2011, 83 percent in 2012 and 86 percent in 2013.

Pretty easy to figure out, isn't it?

The Eagles have been able to balance aggressiveness with intelligence offensively this season, and the rise of Nick Foles at quarterback has obviously impacted the numbers to the good. Foles hasn't thrown an interception this season -- knock on wood -- and his streak of 233 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to December, 2012 is a franchise record. But the offense isn't a conservative one, either, so the mix has been outstanding: Foles isn't afraid to throw the ball into the tight windows the NFL offers, and he knows when to back on and realize that, sometimes, taking a sack or throwing the ball out of harm's way is more productive than trying to make a play when one isn't necessarily there.

"It just comes from learning. I don’t think I threw many interceptions in high school," said Foles after Sunday's win over Arizona, in which he tossed three touchdown passes to run his total to 19 for the season. "I didn’t throw many in college either, but in college I probably made some dumb decisions where I took shots, but I had a great receiver who went up and got it. I learned through making mistakes and throwing interceptions in high school, in college, and in practice. I try to push it in practice and test my boundaries and see what throws are capable against certain defenses. It’s through a lot of mistakes that I’ve learned that."

To think that Foles will go through the rest of the regular season without throwing an interception is, well, perhaps asking too much, but who really knows? It's not just Foles, of course. The offensive line has given him time to set up and throw. His wide receivers have created separation and have made tough catches.

Those with the ball in their hands have worked hard on their ball security and have kept the fumble number now.

It's been a collective effort, just as this four-game surge has been. And for all of the debate that we look forward to having and all of the analysis we're going to do as the Eagles position themselves for the playoff push, remember this; Many times, as the percentages prove, it comes down to turnover ratio. It can be as simple, and certainly as difficult, as that in the NFL.

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