Big Apple Turnovers

How the turnover battle is killing the Jets.

The Rex Ryan era has seen the Jets constantly struggle with turnovers.  First Mark Sanchez and then Geno Smith have turned the ball over at alarming rates, resulting in the Jets turning the ball over more than all but four NFL teams during Ryan's tenure.  In addition, the Ryan defense is not really designed to create turnovers in bunches.   The cornerbacks playing man to man press defense, combined with both safeties often playing in the box, and never really having a prototypical centerfielder free safety type, results in few interceptions.  The pass rush, without ever having an elite edge rusher, has rarely generated enough pressure to compensate.  The result has been a defense that has been approximately league average in creating turnovers, ranking 15th in that department during the Ryan era.  With an offense that generates turnovers in bunches and a defense that is only average in getting the ball back, the Jets over the last five years have had the sixth worst turnover differential in the NFL, at minus 21.

Listed below are all 32 NFL teams, ranked by turnover differential during the Ryan era, from worst to best.  The first thing that jumps out at you is how freakishly great the Patriots have been in this department.  Not only have the Patriots turned the ball over less than any other team in the NFL, they have also generated more turnovers on defense than any other team in the NFL.  The result is a whopping turnover differential of +85, better than one extra turnover per game during the last five years.  This alone goes a long way toward explaining why the Patriots are always at the top of the league.  The offensive side of the equation can be explained by the greatness of Tom Brady.  The defensive side is more interesting.  I don't think the huge number of turnovers generated by an otherwise less than inspiring New England defense is a statistical anomaly.  It would appear that New England specifically coaches the team in techniques and strategies that maximize opportunities for turnovers, and it would appear they do a better job of this than any other team in the NFL.  This is a somewhat subtle indication of the greatness of Belichick.  On paper, by traditional league standings, the Patriots' defenses have not been good.  But in the area that counts most, turnovers, the Patriots' defenses have been off the charts great.  It is infuriating to acknowledge it, but Belichick and the Patriots appear to be one step ahead of the rest of the league here.

Team

Off Turnovers

Def Turnovers

Turnover Differential

Record

Playoff Years

MIA

137

99

-38

35-45

0

OAK

146

111

-35

29-51

0

DET

156

125

-31

29-51

1

AZ

168

141

-27

38-42

1

BUF

160

137

-23

28-52

0

NYJ

151

130

-21

42-38

2

WASH

142

122

-20

30-80

1

MN

134

115

-19

36-44

2

CLE

134

117

-17

23-57

0

JAX

132

115

-17

26-54

0

DEN

131

116

-15

46-34

3

IND

119

106

-13

48-32

4

PITT

125

112

-13

49-31

2

TN

135

124

-11

36-44

1

SD

120

114

-6

46-34

2

STL

120

114

-6

24-55-1

0

NYG

162

158

-4

43-37

2

CIN

137

134

-3

44-36

3

HOU

114

112

-2

39-41

2

PHI

142

140

-2

43-37

3

DAL

119

120

1

41-39

1

TB

137

138

1

28-52

0

KC

124

126

2

34-46

2

NO

121

125

4

55-25

4

CAR

132

143

11

35-45

1

BAL

121

134

13

51-29

4

SEA

122

146

24

43-37

3

CHI

141

166

25

44-36

1

ATL

109

140

31

49-31

3

SF

91

148

57

50-30

3

GB

93

155

62

55-24-1

5

NE

85

170

85

61-19

5

Turning to the Jets, of note is the fact that the Jets are the only team in the bottom 10 in turnover differential with a winning record.  Also of note is the fact that the only teams in the bottom half of the league in turnover differential that have more playoff appearances than the Jets are Indianapolis and Denver, not coincidentally the only two teams in the NFL that had Peyton Manning lead multiple playoff runs for them during the last five years.  Of the teams in the bottom half of the league in turnover differential, only the Jets, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and San Diego had both a winning record over the last five years and more than one playoff appearance.  Denver and Indianapolis had Peyton Manning.  Pittsburgh and San Diego had Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers, respectively.  And the Jets had Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.  Is it any wonder Ryan consistently gets ultra conservative in his offensive approach?

The turnovers drove Ryan nuts, to the point of his infamous color coded wrist bands.  That drove many Jets fans nuts.  But one has to wonder, what if?  What if Ryan had had just a league average quarterback in terms of protecting the football?  I'm not even talking about league average in terms of passing ability or passing yardage; just an average ability to protect the football.  What then?  While 2012 would probably have been a lost cause regardless, it is not difficult to imagine 2011 being a third consecutive playoff year if Sanchez had just been able to protect the ball.  And while 2012 would not  likely have resulted in a playoff run, there certainly were a number of games where the Jets might have picked up a win if only the offense had not been a comedy of errors.  So let's say over the five years of Ryan's tenure the Jets had just protected the ball at a league average rate.  Same uninspired passing, same offensive personnel, just cut back the turnovers by about 20 over the five years.  What might we have seen?  Is it fair to say the Jets would have three playoff runs in the Ryan era, and very likely four winning seasons?  Is it fair to give the Jets an additional five or six wins over the five years?  If so, then the Jets record over the five years would be something like 47-33, with three playoff appearances, two conference championship appearances, and four winning seasons.  That would place the Jets 9th in the NFL in winning percentage and tied for 6th in playoff appearances.  The only teams with more playoff appearances would have been New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, Indianapolis and Baltimore.  The first four teams on that list happen to have had the four best quarterbacks in the NFL.  The fifth, Baltimore, is probably the best run franchise in the NFL.

All of this is of course just speculation.  It's fun to think about in the middle of the off season.  But it may also shed at least a little light on just how good or bad a coach Rex Ryan has been.  Take a look at the other teams with consistently problematic quarterback situations.  Miami, Oakland, Arizona, Buffalo, Washington (other than RG III's rookie year), Minnesota, Cleveland, Jacksonville.  These are the kinds of quarterbacks comparable to the Jets' situation during the Ryan years.  Of these teams, only one, Minnesota, has had multiple playoff appearances, and one of those appearances was led by future Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre playing about as well as he has ever played.  Not one of these teams, other than the Jets, has a winning record over the last five years.  The average record of the eight teams listed over the five years was 30.6 - 49.4.  The Jets over the same stretch were 42-38.  Such a disparity at least raises the question, has Rex done a better job than he is generally given credit for?  The fact that he has a winning record with one of the worst offenses in football in terms of turning the ball over may just be blind luck.  Or, it may be evidence of a superior coach managing to overcome overwhelming odds based primarily on horrifically bad quarterback play.  It certainly would be interesting to see what a Ryan coached team might achieve with a quarterback who simply takes care of the football.  With some luck and some development on the part of Geno Smith, perhaps we will soon find out.

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