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Super Bowl Intangibles Part 1: Turnovers
by Matt Fargo - 01/23/2007
I touched on the quarterbacks yesterday and how the mismatch heavily favors the Colts but that isnâ€™t all that needs to be looked at when trying to pick the winner of Super Bowl XLI. The signal caller is the most important player on the field but there are other intangibles to be considered. Youâ€™re going to get stuffed with media stories throughout the next two weeks to the point of regurgitation and while some of these topics might be covered, they most likely wonâ€™t since they donâ€™t have that star appeal. Today:
Calling turnovers is next to impossible but with a ball-hawking defense like the Bears, it can become more predictable. Chicago was 1st in the NFL in takeaways during the regular season with 44 but it slid off toward the end of the season. The defense forced 3.3 turnovers per game through the first 12 games but that averaged slipped to 1.3 during the last four games. In a nail-biter against Seattle, the defense forced only one turnover while the rout over New Orleans saw four so itâ€™s obvious how those affect the outcome.
Saying the Bears are going to win the turnover battle is not a very bold prediction but against the Colts, itâ€™s not as cut and dry. Indianapolis was 4th best during the regular season at holding onto the ball as it gave it up only 19 times including a 2nd best nine interceptions. However, the postseason has seen a reversal of this. The Colts have turned it over six times, all interceptions with two of those being returned for scores. Indianapolis has also fumbled the ball six times but fortunately has not lost any.
On the other side, the Colts were able to force only 26 turnovers during the regular season for an average of 1.6 per game. They have grabbed eight during the postseason for an average of 2.7 per game and itâ€™s no coincidence that they are where they are partly due to this increase. None were more important than the Marlin Jackson interception of Tom Brady on the final drive of the AFC Championship, a drive that neither Peyton Manning nor any Colts fan could stomach to watch.
While the Bears led the league in takeaways, they were near the top at giving the ball away as well. Chicago was fifth in the league with 36 turnovers, the most of any playoff team. They were in the top 10 in both interceptions and fumbles and 25 of the 36 turnovers were directly by Rex Grossman â€“ 20 interceptions and five fumbles. The Bears have turned it over only twice during the playoffs, both against the Seahawks, so while forcing turnovers is a factor, giving them away plays just as important a role.
Both teams are on the plus side in turnover margin during the postseason and if the quarterbacks keep up their respective paces, there should be a clear-cut turnover battle winner. Surprisingly, that would be the Bears as Grossman has been more efficient than Manning in taking care of the ball. Itâ€™s difficult to fathom Manning having another bad game. He has tossed six interceptions in three games after going four straight years of having 10 or fewer interceptions the entire regular season.
At the same time, itâ€™s hard to fathom Grossman having another mistake-free game. This guy was incredible during the first part of the season then that game at Arizona occurred with that shoddy 10.7 quarterback rating. Grossman tossed 14 interceptions in a span of seven games before coming on strong once again in weeks 14 though 16. A horrendous game against Green Bay closed the year as did questions about his work ethic. He is the only quarterback to have seven ratings above 100 and five below 40.
Does this really give us much to go by? Itâ€™s hard to say. A determination could easily be made if we knew which Manning and which Grossman shows up but we donâ€™t and that is what makes it both difficult and fun at the same time. The fumbles will likely be a wash as the weather played a huge factor in the three fumbles that New Orleans had on Sunday and it isnâ€™t likely the Colts are going to duplicate that. To claim victory, the Bears need to win the turnover battle which at this point doesnâ€™t seem likely.
Next up: Special Teams