"The stat that really matters"

"The stat that really matters"

In an NFL season, 16 teams play 16 games each, producing 256 winners and 256 losers. Fans and even some analysts believe brilliant coaches and elite talents separate the two columns. In theory, they would be wrong.

ESPN reporter and former Philadelphia Inquirer scribe Ashley Fox published a telling piece on Friday about the only statistic that ultimately matters on the gridiorn: turnover margin. "Since 2000, teams that have been plus-1 [or better] in turnover margin have won 92 of 128 postseason games (a winning percentage of .719). Teams that have lost the turnover battle have won just 14.8 percent of the time."

Fox specifically details turnover margin during the playoffs, but the same holds true during the regular season as well. In 2011, teams that were plus-1 or better won 157 of 200 such games -- a winning percentage of .785.

No surprise, the Eagles were 3-0 when they won the turnover battle, and 3-6 when they lost.

While many would argue defense was this team's biggest problem, we've maintained all along it was turnovers first and foremost. The Eagles had a 6-3 record and allowed 16.6 points per game when they gave the ball away two times or less, but were 2-5 and allowed 25.6 when coughing it up on three or more occasions. Still, plenty are not convinced the defense couldn't have done more.

To put those numbers in perspective, all 32 teams combined to win 17 out of 103 games when they committed three turnovers or more -- a winning percentage of .159. In eight of the 17, or nearly half of them, the losing team was also on the hook for three-plus.

Amazingly, the Eagles won two of the 17.

As for the defense's part in this, the league average was 29.4 points allowed. By comparison, it was 20.4 PPG when there were two giveaways or fewer. Interesting that the difference for both the Eagles and the entire NFL was exactly the same -- nine points.

However, the Eagles were actually superior to the rest of the league. Whether they committed five turnovers or zero, Philly's defense almost always allowed fewer points per game, and the club's winning percentage was the same or better. See for yourself:

 TO  NFL  EAGLES
 5+  0-13 (.000), 34.4 PPG  0-1 (.000), 31.0 PPG
 4  5-24 (.172), 32.2 PPG  1-1 (.500), 25.0 PPG
 3  12-49 (.197), 27.0 PPG  1-3 (.250), 24.5 PPG
 2  59-74 (.444), 22.6 PPG  3-2 (.600), 16.8 PPG
 1  101-70 (.591), 20.1 PPG  2-1 (.667), 20.3 PPG
 0  79-26 (.752), 18.0 PPG  1-0 (1.000), 7.0 PPG
 3+  17-86 (.159), 29.4 PPG  2-5 (.286), 25.6 PPG
 2-  239-170 (.584), 20.4 PPG  6-3 (.667), 16.6 PPG

There have been some accusations that we are cherry picking stats that support an agenda, but all we're talking about here is points scored, and how it correlates with giveaways. Clearly the defense was fine when they weren't being bludgeoned by turnovers, and in practically every instance, they were above average at keeping points off the board. This isn't sorcery, folks, and there really is no disputing it.

Of course, there will inevitably be detractors from our research regardless of its authenticity. You think hiring Juan Castillo was ignorant. You think Andy Reid is a joke, and the talent is overrated. We get it.

Don't take our word for it then. Just ask Bill Cowher, who was questioned about turnover margin days prior to winning his first Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, notably in his 14th season as head coach.

"The biggest thing that you can control is how you protect the football," Cowher said. "We put more of a concentrated effort on talking about that. On defense, you play hard, get to the ball and try to strip the ball or get an interception. We certainly talk about that. But those can come in bunches, and you can go through periods where you do all of those things and the other team is just taking care of the ball and you don't get a turnover."

>> The stat that really matters [ESPN.com]
>> Turnovers a big part of winning and losing [USA Today, 2006]

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

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College football wrap: Auburn upsets No. 18 LSU with controversial finish

AUBURN, Ala. -- Gus Malzahn was ready to try anything to get a win for his Auburn Tigers.

Malzahn relinquished offensive play-calling duties. Following his daughters' advice, he traded his usual game-day visor for a cap. And then, when the clock expired and LSU players were celebrating an apparent last-second win, the Auburn coach put all his faith in a ruling he couldn't control.

Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals and Auburn beat No. 18 LSU 18-13 on Saturday night after officials ruled Danny Etling's apparent last-gasp scoring pass came after time expired.

Malzahn said he knew there were only zeroes on the clock before the snap to Etling.

"I was pretty confident time had expired," Malzahn said. "It was just a matter of going to the booth and confirming it."

Etling rolled to his right and found D.J. Shark in the back of the end zone on a 15-yard pass, setting off a short-lived celebration by LSU players (see full recap).

Hornibrook proves he's ready in Badgers' win over Spartans
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- By the time Alex Hornibrook's first start was over, there wasn't much question about whether he could handle one of the toughest road tests in the Big Ten.

Hornibrook threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, and 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned its early-season showdown with No. 8 Michigan State into a rout, beating the Spartans 30-6 on Saturday.

"You've got to have respect for a guy whose first start is against a Michigan State defense," Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said.

"He's going to come out the next game and do even better. I think he's just getting his feet wet."

The freshman quarterback outplayed fifth-year senior Tyler O'Connor, his Michigan State counterpart. The Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were the better team in the first half and then outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the third quarter (see full recap).

No. 23 Rebels find their rhythm, beat No. 12 Georgia 45-14
OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly faked the handoff and then took off running toward the end zone. A few seconds and 41 yards later, the quarterback had cruised through the middle of the Georgia defense and into the end zone untouched.

It was pretty much that easy for the Rebels all afternoon. Ole Miss finally built a lead it couldn't give away.

No. 23 Ole Miss rolled to a 45-14 victory over No. 12 Georgia on Saturday, building a 31-0 lead by halftime and a 45-0 advantage by midway through the fourth quarter.

Kelly threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) broke a 10-game losing streak in the series dating to 1996 (see full recap).

Dobbs rallies No. 14 Vols to 38-28 win over No. 19 Gators
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This time, Tennessee delivered the comeback.

And in the process, the Volunteers took out 11 years' worth of frustration on Florida.

Joshua Dobbs accounted for five second-half touchdowns Saturday and No. 14 Tennessee erased a 21-point deficit to beat No. 19 Florida 38-28 and end their 11-game losing streak in the annual series.

"I didn't see anybody blink," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "Nobody flinched. They just kept playing."

This marks the first time Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has beaten Florida (3-1, 1-1) since 2004. The Volunteers had lost to Florida by one point each of the last two years despite leading in the fourth quarter of both games (see full recap).