The Mirage Of Takeaways

September 10th, 2023

Bucs coach Todd Bowles.

Joe has a fundamental disagreement with folks in the NFL who believe the football world revolves around takeaways.

Joe envisions an NFL type reading this story and then running up to Joe with a statsheet screaming, “Here, I’ll show you, turnovers mean wins!”

Now Joe is not stupid enough to say takeaways are unimportant, but this stat is far from the absolute some try to sell. Lovie Smith was numero uno in this respect. This guy didn’t give a damn about anything else, it seemed, other than takeaways.

His teams played like it, too.

Too often this summer, Joe heard Todd Bowles talk too much about takeaways, like they are a magic elixir.

Just a reminder there are more important elements to a game than forcing a turnover.

Harken back with Joe to the glamorous 2013 season for the Bucs. Tampa Bay was tied for third in the league in takeaways with 31. How did that Bucs’ team fare? They started the season going 0-8, finished 4-12 and canned then-Bucs commander Greg Schiano.

However, in 2020 and 2021, the Bucs were one of the better teams in the NFL in takeaways. The Bucs ranked fourth in both seasons.

So what is Joe getting at? The strong, borderline obsessive focus on takeaways doesn’t mean a hill of beans if you don’t have an offense that can score. Teams must be able to take advantage of turnovers.

In 2013, the Bucs were third-worst in points scored. In 2020 and 2021 the Bucs were third and second, respectively (and won a total of 29 games including a Super Bowl).

The moral of this story is to worry about scoring points first, then worry about lucky takeaways — more often than not, a defense has to hope an offense makes a bad play in order to get a takeaway. If you have the offense to take advantage of takeaways, you will win.

If you have a pedestrian offense, or worse, takeaways don’t mean squat in the big picture.

23 Responses to “The Mirage Of Takeaways”

  1. optimisticbucsfan Says:

    It’s not takeaways…it’s turnover margin that matters.

    It is one of the biggest and most reliable indicators of winning%

    It’s math and it doesn’t lie.

    Not overall takeaways…it means nothing to have 31 takeaways and 31 giveaways.

  2. Lowest Common Denominator Says:

    Yup. Like Optimistic said, positive turnover differential correlates to winning games more than pretty much every other stat. Teams with a positive turnover margin win 70% of the time.

    Just because Lovie was a terrible head coach doesn’t mean he was wrong about that. Much in the same way that Koetter was right about explosive plays being important despite him being a lousy head coach.

  3. BillyBucco Says:

    Its not either or, it’s both and.
    You can’t take 1 stat and try to justify a point.
    I guarantee you I can find a stat where a team was top 5 in sacks but lost horribly.
    I won’t do that because I’m not trying to make a point.
    Do it all.

  4. Defense Rules Says:

    Trying to discuss the importance of takeaways (actually Turnover Differential is much more relevant like OptimisticBucsFan said) reminds me of the old old song ‘Peeing in the Wind’ written by Bob Dylan.

    Oh wait, that was ‘Blowing in the Wind’. My bad.

  5. bob in valrico Says:

    While I agree that we need to focus on scoring points on offense and capitalizing
    on turnovers when you get them. LCD made a good point about the necessity of explosive plays on offense.
    But ,and its a Big But ,IMO I would argue that many if not the majority are
    created by the skill of the defensive players. While you can’t always rely on
    turnovers, when you create them it can be a huge momentum changer when the offense scores off them. Ronde’s Int against Philadelphia in the playoffs changed the momentum of that game. IMO, turnovers are the explosive plays of a defense, that can both prevent scores and also set up scores for the

  6. bob in valrico Says:

    I think your onto something here. Whats more important scoring points or creating turnovers. “The Answer my friend is blowing in the wind” on any given Sunday.

  7. Jack Burton Mercer Says:

    It’s about scoring more than the other team. Defense is obviously part of that. Whatever it takes to limit scoring, be it takeaways or punts, is what matters on D.

  8. Duane Says:

    One thing being most important, or more important than some other thing, does not mean it is the only thing that matters, unless as Coach Lombardy said, it is wins. Every other stat merely helps to explain why a team won or loss.

    Joe is just arguing this with himself for the ten thousandth time, in some attempt to burnish his own self image as an expert sportswriter. He is not arguing with any actual people. NOBODY believes or says that takeaways, or any other stat, is the only thing that matters or producing wins.

    Joe is engaging in straw man arguments … move along man!

  9. Alanbucsfan Says:

    The offense can’t score if it gives away the ball.
    The defense gets tired if the offense keeps giving the ball away.
    The offense has more opportunities to score when defense gets turnovers.
    If your roster stinks, turnovers are less of a factor.

  10. TampaBayBucsFanSince1976 Says:

    The team that scores first in the NFL has a winning percentage over 60 , so if you freaking win the toss – take the ball and score.

  11. K2 Says:

    Agree with Joe!

    3 and out…is also a take-away. Just don’t let teams make 1st downs and you get the ball back.

  12. Beej Says:

    Takeaways are a function of being ahead and forcing the other team to be aggressive. You don’t get the other guy throwing into double coverage on third and long, or strip-sacks, when he’s comfortably ahead

  13. Since76 Says:

    Turn the ball over like Mayfield has done in his career and then don’t get any yourself. Big chance you will lose and lose badly. Not really any argument about it.

  14. Couch Fan Says:

    Painful Sundays are here again. Hope im wrong but in Bowles I do not trust, nor his defense. Go Bucs?!

  15. sdm5821 Says:

    Have you ever noticed what the first four letters of ‘ANALYTICS’ are? Stats are fine, but to rely completely on them is just downright anal. Numbers are fine for providing an indication of what may be a tendency, but they are NOT an absolute truth. I’m old, so excuse the dated reference, but both Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown said, that every play can be a success or score a touchdown, providing that everyone does their job. That’s football in its simplest terms; do your job better than the guy in front of you and your team will be successful. Doesn’t matter what side of the ball you’re on. Same goes for coaching. Throughout any game, adjustments will have to be made to adapt to what your opponent is doing. However, bottom-line is still, do your job better than the other guy and chances are you will be successful. Just my two cents.

  16. Chris l Says:

    It’s not about takeaways . It’s about turnover differential. It does matter. But am I wrong since I reference a stat? Wow

  17. BA’s Red Pen Says:

    Bucs are going to get it done today. JJ’s fantasy owners are going to be mad. Carlton Davis will be getting a game ball around 4 today.

  18. David Says:

    I have said it forever, the game is one by protecting the QB and getting after the QB.
    If you watched Lions beat KC, they won because they were able to pressure Mahomes without blitzing constantly and Goff had time.

    The Buccaneers season depends on the O & D line. I hate being pessimistic but too many ?’s on both sides for me to think they can win more than 6 games. If they’re able to get after the QB and protect for Baker, then they could win 10 or 11 but I really don’t see it happening.

  19. TDavis Says:

    Also, there is a lot of randomness to turnovers.

    But either way, what you talk about shows what matters to you.
    Basically any coach who doesn’t say the number one priority is scoring the most points should be fired. These old school, run the ball and play good defense guys are a dying breed, and I’m looking forward to them not being head coaches soon.

  20. sasquatch Says:

    There are a few factors that, in isolation, just by looking at the stat sheet, can tell you who probably won the game. Turnovers is at the top. So, he’s not wrong to coach the team to be opportunistic, but you can’t just dial up turnovers when you need a big play.

    If you look at it probabilistically, if you can win the turnover battle, win time of possession, and run the ball successfully, you’re much more likely to win the game. This is how Todd wants to play. Some call it conservative. Could just be sound football principles.

  21. unbelievable Says:

    They’re not everything, but they are critically important. As others have said, it’s both sides of the ball where it matters, AKA the “turnover battle” / differential.

    Teams that win the turnover battle with the game 78% of the time.

    I think any of us would be happy with .780 win percentage, wouldn’t we?

  22. UKBuccaneer Says:

    That’s why the Jameis era was such an overwhelming success, I guess.

  23. Colonel Angus Says:

    This post didn’t age well!