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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Turnover battle always key to teams' hopes

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:11 PM
TAMPA -

It's the NFL's great equalizer.

Always has been, always will be.

Turnovers.

Even head coaches who detest statistics have come to embrace turnover margin as pro football's ultimate tipping point.

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has obsessed on ball security since he arrived in Tampa nine months ago. Today's opponent drives that point home with more conviction than any Schiano speech.

"They're in the top 5 in just about every offensive category,'' Bucs safety Ronde Barber said of the Chiefs, "but all those turnovers are losing games for them.''

There are several reasons behind Kansas City's 1-4 start, but you begin with the 19 giveaways and work backward from there.

Think about it.

Nineteen giveaways in five games. That's nine more turnovers than the 49ers committed all of last season.

"They're happening in a lot of different areas and for a lot of different reasons,'' frustrated Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. "Two weeks ago, we get the ball ripped out a couple of times. Last week, we dropped the ball and fumbled a quarterback-center exchange. We tip balls up in the air and they get intercepted. Sometimes, we throw the ball in a bad place.''

These bumbling Chiefs are on pace to challenge pro football's record for most turnovers (65) in a season, set by the Denver Broncos of the American Football League in 1961, President Kennedy's first year in office.

If Kansas City ends up setting a new mark, it's unlikely Crennel will be around in 2013 to clean up the mess.

Once again, there is a powerful correlation between NFL ball security and scoreboard success. The top seven teams in turnover ratio – the Patriots, Falcons, Bears, Texans, Redskins, Ravens and 49ers – are a combined 27-8 through Week 5.

The bottom 14 clubs are a combined 24-44.

"You look at the Chiefs offensively and the only thing they're missing right now is the way they're giving the ball away,'' Schiano said. "If they stop doing that, the most important number, points scored, will go through the roof.''

With quarterback Matt Cassel out today with a concussion, Crennel is hoping Brady Quinn can do better.

Cassel is personally responsible for 13 of Kansas City's 19 giveaways (9 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles), undermining an offense that generates 402 yards per game.

The Patriots are tied with the Falcons for the league lead in turnover differential (plus-10) and coach Bill Belichick said giveaways come in all shapes and sizes.

"Certainly turnovers come in different categories,'' he said. "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 hands and gets batted up in the air.

"Then there are other plays where the defense reads the quarterback and jumps the route, or strips the ball from the runner or receiver. I'd say there are a number of opportunities in most games for the defense to at least get the ball out or put pressure on it. It's an awareness of those opportunities and then taking advantage of them when they occur.''

You can just see Crennel nodding his head and thinking, "That's easy for you to say, Mr. Bill … you've got Tom Brady under center.''

The Bucs have done well with a plus-3 turnover ratio, especially compared to Kansas City's absurd minus-15 mark.

Tampa Bay has lost 12 consecutive games when losing the turnover battle and the ball security matchup appears to be in their favor today.

"Holding onto the football has to be your No. 1 objective on offense,'' Barber said. "You simply can't overstate its importance.''


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833 Twitter: IkaufmanTrib
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