In the game of football the object called football is everything. After all, the entire universe known as the NFL circles around this spheroid-shaped object. It is the players’ livelihood, and the team making the fewest mistakes when in possession of it usually wins. Just take yesterday’s game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.
While the visitors were able to play a mistake-free game when it comes to taking care of the football, the Patriots turned it over twice. In a ballgame that was ultimately decided by only one yard a -2 turnover differential makes all the difference in the world.
The first of those two giveaways by the Patriots was an ill-advised interception thrown by quarterback Tom Brady. It was the first pick thrown by a New England quarterback this season, after the team set a record by starting the season with 258 pass interception-free pass attempts. While Brady’s interception hurts given the situation – 1st and 10 from the Patriots’ 35-yard line –, turning the ball over through the air is clearly not one of the team’s flaws.
Turning it over on the ground, on the other hand, seems to be.
Historically, the Patriots have always been able to keep their fumbles at a minimum. Last season, for example, the team fumbled a grand total of 14 times in 18 games, losing six. This year, however, New England has already amassed 18 fumbles through nine games, losing seven of them.
Yesterday’s game saw three more fumbles by the Patriots’ offense and special teams (and a fourth called back on instant replay). Two were recovered by New England but overall it was a continuation of what we already saw prior to the bye week: the Patriots struggle to protect the football and need to make working on their ball security a priority moving forward.
Of course, fumbles can never be eliminated altogether no matter how hard you train ball security. But the patterns behind losing the football can be looked and worked at in order to minimize the odds of fumbling.
Yesterday’s game against the Seahawks is a good example for that.
The first fumble of the day – after an earlier one by Rob Gronkowski was rightfully called back – occurred on a kick return, when rookie Cyrus Jones’ lost the football for a team-leading third time this season. The lose ball was recovered by the Patriots’ Nate Ebner but that does not eliminate the fact that Jones fumbled once again.
However, while his first two were the result of bad technique – holding the football with one hand and misjudging a punt –, yesterday’s fumble was not. Jones, after being a healthy stretch the last two games, played more careful and held onto the football with both hands while maneuvering through traffic. Unfortunately, though, his right hand was pulled off the football by kicker Steven Hauschka just as safety Steven Terrell took a swing at it.
While it looked bad in real time and resulted in Jones’ third fumble in 11 returns, the rookie actually played it well and tried to protect the football as well as possible. Sometimes, you just can’t. And apparently, the coaching staff agreed as Jones was back deep to potentially field the next kickoff. As Jones continues to take in the coaching and grow as a player, his ball protection and confidence will become better – the first results were already on display.
Other players on the field, like Julian Edelman for instance, will hopefully also find a way to improve their technique to cut down fumbles. While Edelman had a productive game yesterday and looked better than he has all season long, his lost fumble was a momentum-changing play on 2nd and 10 from Seattle’s 43-yard line and down only a point.
It was the result of one of Edelman’s positive traits: fighting for every yard. He did just that throughout his career, he also did it yesterday. However, what he also did was expose the football to be taken away by the defense by oftentimes having only one arm wrapped around it. As is the case with Jones’ fumbles the issue is correctable – it just needs both the coaching staff and the player to work on it.
The head of the coaching staff, Bill Belichick, knows that he and his crew need to keep working on those fundamentals:
Yeah, that’s definitely a problem. [...] Our ball security is not what it needs to be. We’ve addressed it. We obviously have to keep addressing it more and find a way to improve it. We can’t keep turning the ball over.
New England has been able to win games despite losing the turnover battle. Yesterday, the team lost a close contest and two giveaways – one of which a fumble – played a big role in that. While the issues seem correctable, the gist remains: the Patriots need to protect the football better.
It is on the coaching staff to keep stressing this and on the players to keep working on it.