Turnovers are the big story of the Redskins' season thus far. Last week I noted the team's dramatic offensive improvements over last season, and mentioned that a poor turnover differential was likely keeping points down. The turnover differential worsened against the Chiefs on Sunday and now stands at -8 for the season (30th in the league). For comparison the differential for all of last season was just -1--meaning they took the ball from their opponents about as frequently as they gave it back through all 16 games.
Here's the good news: The law of averages should correct most of the Redskins' turnover problem as the season continues. Let me explain. When an offensive player fumbles the ball we would expect the defense to gain possession about 50% of the time because the same number of players on each team are fighting for a ball that is bouncing randomly around the field. You could argue that offensive players tend to have better hands and thus have the advantage, or that defensive players have the advantage because they face the ballcarrier while offensive players are turned away blocking. But the real-world split seems close enough to 50-50 that variances can be explained by statistical noise. For example, during the 2003 NFL season the defensive team recovered 54% of all fumbles. In 2004 defense was again favored with a 52% recovery rate, but so far this year the offense has a slight 51% advantage.
The good news for the Redskins is that they've been horribly unlucky at recovering both offensive and defensive fumbles this season. How unlucky? The Redskins' offense has recovered just 22% of its own fumbles (2 of 9). The defense has fared even worse, recovering just 11% of opponent fumbles (1 of 9). The probability that the team would recover 3 or fewer of 18 fumbles is just 1 in 250. A "normal" fumble recovery rate of 50% would bring their turnover differential to a much less worrisome -2.
In case you're wondering whether the Redskins simply have a team loaded with spectacularly bad fumble recoverers, last season their offense and defense combined for a 49% recovery rate. Around the league in 2004, the New Orleans Saints bested all with a 61% recovery rate and the Philadelphia Eagles trailed the pack at 37%.
The real areas of concern are interceptions and sacks, of which the defense has just one and five, respectively. For comparison, at least 30 NFL players have two or more interceptions, and 12 players have five or more sacks.
Current Washington Post Redskins articles: Turnovers offset positives. Portis feeling better. Gibbs fined for thought crimes. Turnovers change game plan.