Eagles need to get turnover mojo back

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The first nine weeks of the season, the Eagles were plus-15 in turnover ratio, and nobody else was better than plus-7. They had committed just three turnovers, and every other team had committed at least seven. They had 18 takeaways, most in the league.

The Eagles were 8-0, and they were rolling in large part because they protected the ball at near-record pace and took the ball away better than anybody else. Their three turnovers through eight games matched the fewest in NFL history. And that plus-15 turnover ratio was 14th-largest in the last 50 years.

No stat correlates to winning and losing more than turnovers.

Over the last 10 years, teams that are plus-one or better in turnover ratio have won 77 percent of the time. Teams that are plus-two win 88 percent of the time. And teams that are plus-three win 94 percent of the time. 

It was fair to think that if the Eagles kept protecting the ball the way they were and kept forcing turnovers at the same rate they wouldn’t lose a game.

And they probably wouldn’t have.

But regression to the mean is a powerful force, and the longer the season went on, the more extreme the odds became that the Eagles could keep limiting turnovers and piling up takeaways at the same historic pace.

And?

Over the last eight weeks, the Eagles have the worst turnover margin in the NFL at minus-6. 

Their 14 turnovers during that span are second-most (one fewer than the two-win Texans), and their eight takeaways are tied for 13th.

Twice, the Eagles have committed four turnovers – the Commanders at home and at Dallas Saturday – and they lost both games. They managed to beat the Colts despite being minus-one, the Bears at minus-two and the Titans at plus-zero.

Simply, the Eagles are making life much harder for themselves than earlier in the year.

Why has this been happening? Turnovers are weird to understand because there are so many different ways they happen. So there's no single easy answer.

Jalen Hurts had thrown three all year before he threw two in Chicago. James Bradberry and Darius Slay combined for six interceptions the first half of the season, but they don’t have any since Week 8. It hasn’t helped that NFL interception leader Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has missed the last four games. 

The Eagles had 13 interceptions in their first nine games and just three in the last seven – by three unlikely players – Reed Blankenship, Josiah Scott and Josh Sweat.

But there’s a random element, too. Sometimes the ball literally just doesn't bounce your way.

First eight games this year, the Eagles and their opponents combined for 18 fumbles, and the Eagles recovered 12 of those loose balls, or 67 percent.

The last seven games, there have been 25 fumbles by either team, and the Eagles have recovered only four of them – that’s 16 percent.

Fumble recoveries are sometimes hustle plays or who wants it more, but often just which way the ball bounces or who winds up with the ball at the bottom of the scrum. And those loose balls have overwhelmingly gone the other way the second half of the season.

Some of the issues are impossible to understand. 

Just in the Dallas game, how does a routine handoff from Gardner Minshew to Boston Scott end up on the ground? How does Miles Sanders just fumble deep in Dallas territory without getting hit? How does a loose ball that looks for all the world to be securely in Linval Joseph’s grasp wind up Cowboys ball? Same with one that Jack Driscoll seemed to have recovered?

If just one of those plays went the Eagles way? They're playing the subs against the Saints Sunday. 

In a way, the Eagles should be feeling pretty encouraged right now because the only games they’ve lost this year they’ve been minus-two and minus-three in turnover margin, with four giveaways in each loss.

If Quez Watkins doesn't fumble at the Washington 15-yard-line? If Sanders doesn't fumble at the Dallas 24-yard-line?

In two years under Sirianni, the Eagles are 16-1 when they’ve won the turnover battle – the only loss was against the Chiefs last year - and 6-10 when they haven’t.

If the Eagles can get back to being a team that protects the football and forces turnovers, they’re going to be very hard to beat.

And if they can get back to being that team a few weeks in a row?

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