Kansas City, Mo. The hungry Kansas City Chiefs defense must be salivating at the thought of Eli Manning and the turnover-prone New York Giants coming to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
The Chiefs (3-0) lead the league with a plus-9 turnover differential, a big reason why they’re undefeated. The Giants, meanwhile, are a league-worst minus-9, a major reason they’ve yet to win a game.
“I’ve told the team this: Points and turnovers are the two most important things that you have as a football team,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You don’t want to turn the football over — you have to get used to that stat. If you turn the ball over, you’re losing football games.”
Indeed, several studies have shown a strong correlation between turnover differential and wins. Some of them press the bounds of advanced mathematics to the limits. But the results boiled down are simple: Teams that turn the ball over, and fail to force turnovers generally lose.
The Chiefs and Giants are both following that trend.
Alex Smith has yet to throw an interception since arriving in Kansas City in an offseason trade. In fact, he’s thrown only 20 picks since the 2010 season, the fewest of any quarterback with at least 1,000 pass attempts.
Then there are the running backs and wide receivers, which have yet to fumble. Smith is the only player to put the ball on the ground, and the Chiefs managed to hop on it.
That means with another perfect afternoon against the Giants, the Chiefs will have gone four straight games without a turnover for the first time since the end of the 1997 season and the start of ’98 — two years in which Kansas City went a combined 20-12.
“It’s something that’s daily here, the importance of ball security. No question,” Smith said. “It’s something we take a lot of pride in. When you look around, the statistics are overwhelming, your chances to win the ballgame when you win the turnover battle.”
It’s not just been that the Chiefs are generating turnovers, either. Often, they’re leading to instant points.
Tamba Hali stepped in front of Blaine Gabbert’s pass in the season opener in Jacksonville and could have moonwalked into the end zone. Eric Berry gave the Chiefs their second pick-six last Thursday night in Philadelphia when he caught a deflected pass and ran untouched for the score.
The Chiefs have 30 points off takeaways this season, second to Chicago, and a fairly significant number considering they’ve scored 71 points overall.
“Turnovers are a big part of every game you play,” Chiefs defensive back Marcus Cooper said. “It’s a way to give the offense more opportunities to get points on the board. It’s a big deal.”
No need to tell that to the guys that were in Kansas City last season.
The Chiefs were last in the league with a minus-24 turnover margin. Their revolving door of quarterbacks threw 20 interceptions and they fumbled an astonishing 26 times.
“If your takeaway ratio is high, then normally you’re winning,” Reid said. “That’s why those are two important stat points, takeaways and giveaways.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin is well aware of it. His team has turned it over a league-high 13 times, and is tied with Pittsburgh for the worst differential in the league.
Some of the turnovers have come late in games, when the winless Giants have been frantically trying to rally. They’ve lost four fumbles, and Manning has already thrown eight interceptions, which leaves him more than halfway toward the 15 he had last season.
Coughlin said the “first and foremost principle we believe in is ball security,” and that has been true for much of his tenure in New York. But it hasn’t been the case this season, and he knows that will have to change if the Giants have a chance Sunday.
“We haven’t done a very good job of it,” he acknowledged. “We know how to teach ball security. When a player is careless or doesn’t give himself the opportunity to be successful by following a few simple procedures, then usually at some point in time these things hurt you, and we’ve been hurt by it a few times this fall.”