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Data Entry: Turning Over the Turnover Problem

| March 13th, 2017

This is the 3rd installment of a monthly offseason piece I’ll be doing here at DaBearsBlog, helping fill the content void of the long offseason. Each one will be a numbers-crunching look at something Bears related in which I attempt to earn the “Data” moniker so kindly bestowed on me by the comments section regulars and, more importantly, answer a Bears question that I’ve been wondering about. If you have anything you’d like me to look into, let me know in the comments or email me at woodjohnathan1@gmail.com and I’ll see what I can do.


Chicago’s defense has significantly improved in the last two years from the disaster that was the Mel Tucker era, but there is one area where they have actually regressed: forcing turnovers.

Tucker’s defenses in 2013 and 2014 actually forced turnovers at a slightly-above average rate (Tucker can probably thank the leftover Lovie Smith-trained players for that), while Vic Fangio’s defenses have forced fewer turnovers in the last 2 years than any other NFL defense. In fact, 13 defenses have forced as many turnovers in one season (28) as the Bears’ defense has the last two seasons combined.

The problem was particularly pronounced last year, when the Bears forced a measly 11 turnovers, tied for the fewest by any defense in the NFL in the last 10 years.

Given the strong and well-established relationship between winning the turnover battle and winning football games, this is a real problem for Chicago. All of this research looks at turnover differential, not just turnovers forced. But forcing turnovers is half of turnover differential and it’s the part I want to focus on today. Avoiding turnovers is largely a product of your quarterback (and luck for fumbles/fumble recoveries). That’s a separate issue that has already been discussed on here at length.

Setting it up

Here’s my question: What is the history for teams the year after they have forced as few turnovers as the Bears have recently? Does the defense continue to struggle generating turnovers, or does it improve quickly?

Here’s how I approached the study:

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