Even the most diehard Patriots fan would agree that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a superior defense to New England.
By conventional measure. In terms of yards allowed, the Steelers are having an absurd season defensively allowing just 259.8 total yards per game. The Patriots are allowing 390.2.
But check this out: the Steelers have created nine turnovers this season. The Patriots have created 32. Thats 23 drives or would-be drives if the turnover came on special teams that were snuffed out before points could be scored. There are about 10 drives in every game (give or take) for each team. The Patriots have snuffed out more than two games worth of drives with turnovers. Additionally, the Patriots happen to have the stingiest quarterback in NFL history when it comes to giving the ball away. The Patriots have turned it over just eight times this season, three times on Brady picks.
They are plus-24 in turnover differential. The teams in second and third behind the Patriots in that statistic are Baltimore, Chicago and Washington. They are all plus-12.
Now, turnovers are a tough foundation on which to build a successful team. They are ephemeral, a product of luck. Can a team count on them? Especially in the playoffs when the quarterbacks are better and Ryan Fitzpatrick is in Cancun?
Who can say?
Last year, the Patriots were plus-17 third in the league after creating 34 takeaways during the year and when the Super Bowl came, fumbles bounced into the hands of Giants and interceptions were thrown by New England.
But the clip at which the Patriots are creating turnovers and the efficiency of the New England offense is a crushing 1-2 punch for prospective opponents.
Turnovers are a huge part of the game and other than points, theyre probably statistically the highest correlation to winning, Bill Belichick said Friday on a conference call. We had a lot of turnovers earlier in the year and we didnt get enough point production out of those turnovers. A lot of times, wed turn the ball over and end up leaving with not many points. So even though we had a turnover differential advantage, that didnt really translate into a big point advantage with those turnovers.
The past few weeks, that number has changed more in our favor where the turnovers have been converted into points and in a lot of cases, touchdowns, Belichick continued. We all saw how quickly that a very competitive game last night, that was a scoreless tie, a battle back and forth, then all the sudden its 35 points up there. But thats what happens. A big play, a turnover, score, another turnover, another big play and when you get all those yards in one play, whether its on a big play or a turnover, then thats what defines explosive plays.
Seven of the last eight turnovers the Patriots created have resulted in touchdowns. Four came on returns two pick returns, two fumble returns.
On the season, the Patriots have generated 97 points off turnovers. And many have been immediate.
It certainly changes the whole dynamic of the game even though a 14-play, 80-yard drive that takes seven and half minutes, you get the same amount of points and all that, but it takes longer and doesnt change the game as quickly obviously, said Belichick. You have to take advantage of those opportunities, to turn them into points, whether its Julians Edelman return or Steves Gregory return or like we had in the Indianapolis game, the strip sack and then the pass to Rob Gronkowski from the 20-yard line or whatever it was. When it happens that fast, it really can swing the momentum in a hurry.
The momentum is all swung New Englands way right now. Theyve won five in a row and seven-of-eight with the only loss being the weirdness in Seattle. A lot of it is turnover-based.
Is that a foundation made of sand or stone? The fun part will be finding out.