It’s simplistic, sure, but consistently creating takeaways can turn an average team into a contender.
Having your defense set up your offense — whether it’s with field position or by scoring itself — will increase efficiency while simultaneously putting pressure on an opposing team. Takeaways and turnover margin are key: the only AFC playoff team to finish in the bottom half of the conference in takeaways was Indianapolis (15 total).
The Dolphins only had one more takeaway than Indianapolis — good for 14th in the AFC — so turnover creation will likely be a big storyline heading into 2013.
Former ball-hawking NFL safety Darren Sharper recently sat down with The Finsiders to discuss the art of the takeaway.
It isn’t just about shutting down an opposing offense in its tracks; a takeaway has more value because you’re putting your offense in a better position to turn a stop into a score.
“You’re creating turnovers and you’re giving your offense another chance to get the ball back and to put points on the board,” Sharper said. “And that’s why it’s so crucial for defenders to try to find ways now to attack the football. That was always my initial focus when I played DB. I didn’t worry too much about the receiver.
“The ball is the issue. That’s something I was taught the first couple of years in Green Bay: the ball is the issue. That’s what I tried to put into my game that kind of worked well for me and allowed me to have success.”
So, for defenses that are traditionally takeaway deficient, the big question: Can you teach a player how to take the ball away? Or is it an innate skill that is as natural as a player’s speed or size? There are subtleties that you can work on, Sharper said, but they’re just part of the puzzle.
“It is instinctual – that’s a big part of it. You can learn how to try to anticipate things and that comes from film study, but some guys just have it and some guys don’t, especially when it comes to catching the football as a defender. Guys have softer hands than others.”
If an NFL team cannot increase its takeaway numbers, it’s probably not for a lack of trying. Typically, teams will dedicate a portion of practice time — strip drills, balls recognition, etc. — to reinforce an aggressive approach.
With fumbles, there is a luck factor — a defense isn’t going to recover every fumble it forces — and a low fumble recovery rate can contribute to a low takeaway total. But the more opportunities you create, the higher likelihood that percentage will approach – or regress to – the mean. In other words, luck becomes less of a factor when you are forcing more fumbles.
Anticipation is key, Sharper said. If you have a coach that can affect a defender’s mentality by passing along knowledge of an opposing players tendencies, you may be able to increase his chances to make a big play.
“You just want to keep preaching getting guys to the football,” said Sharper, who finished his career with 63 interceptions and eight forced fumbles. “The more guys you have around the football if a ball is jarred loose, you’ll have someone there on your team to pick it up, and that’s how those turnovers numbers increase on the season.”
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