NFC West: turnovers

The San Francisco 49ers held an 11-3 record at this point last season.

They were plus-25 in turnover differential, a margin they seemed very unlikely to duplicate in 2012. It was natural to assume the team's record might suffer when the turnover margin regressed to a more realistic figure.

The turnover differential has definitely regressed. The 49ers are only plus-eight in that category through 14 games this season. But at 10-3-1, they have lost only one-half game in the standings. That half-game swing would seem to reflect the St. Louis Rams' improvement as much as any significant shift for the 49ers.

San Francisco has improved quite a bit on offense. The 49ers' cumulative total for expected points is 66.0 through Week 15, up from minus-13.2 at this point last season. The team's defensive EPA stands at minus-72.4, nearly as good as the minus-83.1 figure at this point last season. Other variables come into play, obviously. Teams change from year to year. Opponents change. The ball bounces differently.

Those expecting the 49ers to fall into the 9-7 range when the turnovers stopped flowing so furiously weren't on target. I personally thought the 49ers would be very unlikely to repeat their 13-3 record from last season simply because that is a high bar to clear. While they cannot get to 13-3, victories over Seattle and Arizona would leave them at 12-3-1 -- as close as a team can come to 13-3 without being 13-3.

The 49ers have committed 14 turnovers and collected 22 this season. The figures were 10 and 35, respectively, at this point in 2011. Seattle has committed four fewer turnovers and forced one additional one. Arizona has committed two additional turnovers while doubling the number of turnovers forced from 16 at this point last season to 32 at present. The Rams' numbers have stayed about the same.

The Cardinals' fall in the standings despite a doubling of turnovers collected shows how much the offense has declined. Arizona was at minus-28.8 expected points on offense through 14 games last season. The figure is minus-179.2 this season, last in the NFL by 85-plus points. Arizona's defensive EPA stands at minus-75.3, which ranks second in the NFL. The figure was plus-6.8 last season, which ranked 15th.

Where NFC West teams rank in turnovers

October, 6, 2011
Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have forced fewer turnovers than the Seattle Seahawks this season.

Pittsburgh has one. Seattle has two.

"We're trying to do everything we can, but when you don't affect the quarterback and you're not getting to him -- we didn’t get any sacks last week -- that’s where most of it starts," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday.

The Steelers are a league-worst minus-10 in turnover differential. They committed 11 total turnovers against Baltimore, Indianapolis and Houston, but none in their game against Seattle. The Seahawks have recovered none of their opponents' four fumbles. Studies have shown fumble recovery rates to be random, meaning Seattle should gain in this area over the course of the season. The Seahawks recovered 10 of their opponents' 22 fumbles last season.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers sit atop the turnover-differential standings, tied with Baltimore at plus-eight.

The Ravens collected seven turnovers against Pittsburgh in Week 1. The 49ers have forced turnovers at a more consistent pace, collecting three apiece against Seattle, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, and two against Dallas. They rank tied with Detroit and Minnesota for the fewest giveaways with three.

The chart shows where NFC West teams stand in turnover differential. The 49ers, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams are the only teams with fewer than two interceptions. Each has one.

What to make of Rams' run on turnovers

September, 5, 2009
Posted by's Mike Sando

Brian writes via Facebook: Takeaways,takeaways, takeaways. Rams have 12 in 4 preseason games. They have also shown the ability to tighten up in the red zone on D. Spags' imprint is definitely wearing off on this team.

Mike Sando: The Rams forced one turnover during the 2008 preseason and only two the year before. They have 12 this preseason, including seven fumble recoveries. What does it mean? Well ...

The number of turnovers forced per game did not correlate from preseason to regular season in 2008. The statistical correlation produced a negative number (minus-.114). The more mathematical people in the community here can put that in perspective, but the greatest possible correlation is 1.0.

The Rams forced one turnover in four preseason games last season. They forced 1.6 turnovers per game during the regular season. The difference of nearly 1.4 turnovers per game from preseason to regular season marked the second-widest absolute disparity in the league. An unusual preseason total appeared untrustworthy as an indicator for the regular season.

The Chargers forced a league-high 12 turnovers during the 2008 preseason, or three per game. Their 16-game regular-season total was just 24, 17th in the league and 1.5 fewer per game than in preseason.

Twelve of the 15 top turnover-forcing teams in the 2008 preseason saw their turnovers per game decline during the regular season. None of the 15 experienced significant improvements. None of the top five turnover-forcing teams during the 2008 preseason ranked higher than 17th in that category during the regular season. However, two of the teams ranked sixth through eighth ranked among the top five, with Baltimore first and the Jets fifth. Both teams were simply better on defense than the Rams.

The Rams' preseason thievery might not mean much, in other words.