I haven't written about the Redskins or their fumble recovery problems for several weeks, but Football Outsiders has some interesting commentary in response to a reader question and in this week's power rankings.
In the first article FO shows that Greg Williams's defenses don't historically have problems recovering fumbles and also provides a breakdown of the typical offense/defense recovery rate for different types of fumbles. Offense has a big advantage recovering fumbled snaps (3/4); defense has a slight advantage recovering fumbles on runs or receptions (normally 5/8 but the defensive advantage grows when the fumble is far downfield); and sack-fumble recoveries are evenly split. Special teams fumbles aren't mentioned.
The Skins played a horrible game against Arizona and won anyway, in part because they won the fumble recovery battle decisively for the first time this season. Washington fumbled three times, recovering each one, and also recovered four of Arizona's five fumbles. On a day when Mark Brunell threw one-third of the team's total interceptions for the season, Washington was fortunate to also make one-third of its total fumble recoveries for the season. (To be fair to Brunell most of the int's were not his fault.)
Sunday's game demonstrated again the decisive role of luck in games between nearly matched teams--and why sports columnists are usually off their rockers when they call for a coach's head after his team loses a few close games or loses "the big game" a couple of times. Frankly, I thought some of the things written by Washington Post writers after the Skins' loss to San Diego (their third in a row) three weeks ago were ridiculous.
A glance at the standings shows that Washington has had a darn tough schedule this year, and that, in combination with poor fumble luck, will likely cost them a playoff spot. Clearly the team has serious flaws--such as poor depth at defensive line and wide receiver. But they've also made more progress this year than credited by the press and fans. And the team is still fixing problems from the pre-Gibbs, Snyder era.
One of these problems was Lavar Arrington's notion that his whirlybird rides with Snyder made him the "face of the team" and exempt from team rules. Another was granting Laveranues Coles the freedom to exchange his statistical "penury" with Washington (2nd most passes in the league, 6th most catches) for "riches" with the New York Jets (17th most passes, 21st most catches, same 10.6 yard average). Coles's move up cost Washington about nine million dollars in salary cap penalties--certainly enough to shop for a star defensive lineman and a solid receiver.
I've been working on a way to quantify how many wins a tough schedule costs the average team, and I hope to have my initial findings polished up and ready to post in the next few days. My model shows that the Skins have made decent--but not great--progress this year. However, if you grant that poor fumble luck cost Washington just one win they become one of the most improved teams in the league this year. One more tidbit: If last year's Skins played this year's schedule they would likely have between four and five wins at this point, instead of the seven wins they do have.