You might not be surprised by this just looking at the numbers compared to last year, when New England finished third overall with a plus-17 ratio. However, it seems that this year's defense is creating more of those turnover opportunities (e.g., forcing fumbles, making good adjustments to intercept passes) as opposed to just being in the right place at the right time, say, for an errant pass, which seemed to be the case much of last year.
"You could definitely generate them," head coach Bill Belichick agreed. "Certainly, turnovers come in different categories. Some of them are just mistakes by the offense that the defense doesn't really have anything to do with, like fumbled snaps or a pass that goes off a receiver's hand and gets batted up in the air and is an easy interception and the defense doesn't affect it.
"Then there are other plays," he continued, "where the defense does affect the play that they read the quarterback, jump the route, strip the ball from the runner or receiver who is obviously trying to hold on to it but the defender is alert and if they don't put pressure on the ball then they just tackle the guy around the legs instead of trying to get the ball, those aren't going to be fumbles."
Belichick went on to state that there are a number of opportunities in most games for the defense to pry the ball loose from an opponent's grip, but recovering it is another matter.
"It's an awareness of those opportunities and then taking advantage of them when they occur," he added, "which isn't on every play, but they do happen. But then, there are some turnovers that are just unforced and those are just sloppiness by the offensive team, whoever it is just losing the ball. The defense doesn't cause a turnover, it's just bad offensive execution."
Teams always try to create turnovers, as Belichick pointed out, but actually being good at dislodging the football is not easy. The Patriots say they work on making their own luck every day.
"Just practice, man," explained safety
"Turnovers are always a big stat. They really correlate to winning and losing games," echoed QB
The flip-side, of course, is that Brady the Patriots' offense has surrendered possession just four times (also tied with Atlanta). Only three teams have lost the ball fewer times – Oakland, Houston, and Pittsburgh each have three give-aways thus far.
So, while defenders are practicing taking the ball away, the offensive players are simultaneously getting used to trying to protect the ball at all costs.
Two of the Patriots' three fumbles lost came against the Bills in Week 4, and both of those came after pass receptions (
"You look at it overall and I think he's done a nice job of carrying the ball quite a few times this season," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels observed. "He's done a good job of that and then there are a couple of instances where the ball got loose a little bit. But you continue to work with every player on those fundamentals and the technical part of their game, which includes ball security and includes catching, blocking, running good routes and all the rest of those things that can contribute to protecting the football.
"So it will be a point of emphasis for us going forward. It always is and it always has been and it will continue to be. I think that he's certainly not the only person that the ball got out on the last so many weeks here."
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia says he's pleased with his unit's effort in the turnover war after five weeks, but that he's focused on the bigger end result of that production.
"The most important thing, obviously, is that we're successful as a team and that's really what we're focused on. I think we're just trying to go out and take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself out on the football and make sure we're prepared to do that, whether it's takeaways, situational, down and distance, personnel, whatever it may be. We're just trying to go out and perform well as a team and that's the most important thing."
For details about today's Patriots practice and more locker room tidbits, please visit the PFW blog.