"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]

Temple's Brown returns to form, but defensive lapse costly in loss

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Temple's Brown returns to form, but defensive lapse costly in loss

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Josh Brown began looking like his old self on Wednesday night.

Temple’s senior guard missed the Owls' first six games while recovering from surgery he had on his Achilles tendon in May. He returned to the court one week ago in the Owls’ win at St. Joe’s. 

Brown showed some signs of rust in his first two games. He had four points and an assist against the Hawks in 14 minutes of action. On Saturday against Penn, Brown played 11 minutes and scored five points.

In Wednesday’s 66-63 loss to George Washington at the Liacouras Center, Brown played a season-high 24 minutes. He scored 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting and added one assist and made some key plays for the Owls down the stretch in the close loss (see Instant Replay).

“He played great,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He didn’t play great against Penn. Tonight, he was ready to go. He did some really good things for us. It’s nice to have. It’s a nice comfort.”

Brown helped Temple close a large deficit late in the game. He hit a three-point shot from the corner on the fast break with 5:28 left to bring the Owls within three. He hit another three-point shot at the top of the key with 2:44 left to bring Temple within six. 

Less than a minute later, he assisted on a Daniel Dingle three, which made the score 61-58. On Temple’s next defensive possession, Brown grabbed a rebound before Dingle hit another three on the other end of the court to tie the game at 61 with 1:31 left.

With the Owls trailing by three on the game’s final possession, Brown almost drew a foul behind the three-point line before finding Dingle for another open look that hit the back of the rim.

“When I was out there, I was just trying to be in the moment, be in the now,” Brown said. “That’s what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. When you do that, you’re focused, and when the shot comes, your preparation takes over.”

Despite his clutch play on the offensive end, Brown was critical of a mental lapse on defense during the game’s most crucial moment. After playing tight defense for almost all of the shot clock, Brown let George Washington forward Tyler Cavanaugh slip to the corner and put up a three-point shot with one second on the shot clock.

Cavanaugh’s three-point attempt with 8.2 seconds left in the game proved to be the game-winner on Wednesday night.

“I lost focus for a little bit,” Brown said. “I helped off for a slight second and that’s all he needed. I give props to that guy for hitting a tough shot, but I could’ve just stayed and not even helped.”

Wednesday’s loss ended a five-game winning streak for Temple, now 6-3 on the season. With defenses focusing on junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who scored 12 points against the Colonials, Brown will be looked at to steady the Owls' offense.

Brown was the only Temple player besides Enechionyia to score more than one basket in the first half as the Owls went into the break trailing 31-25.

“Him being out there, he adds intensity to the game,” Dingle said. “When he goes in the game, the energy goes up. Defensively and offensively he’s a general out there.”

Penn State blasted at home by red-hot George Mason

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Penn State blasted at home by red-hot George Mason

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The cheers reverberating from George Mason's locker room came from players experiencing their hottest streak in years. The quiet from Penn State's mirrored the whimper of the Nittany Lions in the second half as their run was snapped.

Marquise Moore scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Otis Livingston added 18 points and the Patriots beat Penn State 85-66 for their sixth straight win and best stretch since 2011-12 on Wednesday.

"It was a great win for our team, really proud of our guys," George Mason coach Dave Paulsen said. "We really, really competed with toughness in the second half, especially I think our second-half defense was really good."

Jalen Jenkins added 15 points for the Patriots (7-3) who snapped Penn State's four-game winning streak.

Penn State led 38-37 after a wild first half that featured 12 lead changes. But the Raiders took control starting with Livingston's 3-pointer that made it 42-40 early in the second. They dominated from there, leading for the remaining 18:58 and outrebounded the Nittany Lions 44-29, outscored them 44-16 in the paint and held a speedy Penn State team to just two fastbreak points.

"We looked young tonight for whatever reason," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We have to figure that out. We have to play much harder."

Payton Banks led Penn State (6-4) with 21 points. Shep Garner and Lamar Stevens chipped in 13 apiece for the Nittany Lions.

The big picture
George Mason: The Patriots are on a roll and keeping pace in a competitive Atlantic 10 conference that had five teams with six wins entering the night. They seem to have flipped a switch following a 93-65 loss to Houston on Nov. 21 and haven't lost since.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions had been winning despite deficiencies in a few areas while making up for them in others over the last four games. They weren't able to make up for their lack of production in the paint, however.

Guards on the glass
Paulsen was wary of the size advantage Penn State's forwards had heading in. The Patriots didn't start anyone over 6-foot-7 while Penn State boasted a trio of forwards at or taller than that. Paulsen was particularly concerned about 6-foot-9 Mike Watkins who was fresh off his best game where he blocked 12 shots against Wright State.

But the George Mason coach had faith in his guards' ability to attack the net and win those rebounds. Moore entered the game as the country's top rebounding guard with 10 per game and posted his sixth double-double of the season.

"We have some pretty good rebounding guards," Paulsen said. "So you can't do it unless you have really active, rebounding guards."

Veteran responsibility
Penn State's gotten big time contributions from a handful of freshmen and started three as usual. But it was one of the veterans who shouldered blame afterward.

Banks was dejected after the game and pointed the finger at himself. Despite leading the team in points, he wasn't able to help on the glass.

"A lot of it just starts with me right here," Banks said. "I had zero rebounds. We can't rely on Lamar (Miller) and Mike for the scoring load and Julian (Moore). Our guards have to rebound and that's what we lacked this game and it definitely showed on the scoreboard."

Up next
George Mason plays at Penn on Saturday and has three of their final five games in 2016 at home.

Penn State plays Pittsburgh in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday and has another on the road before closing out 2016 with a pair of games at home, including the Big Ten opener on Dec. 27.