The Dude Abides: A 2008 lesson in field position, time of possession, & turnovers

I bowl. I drive around. Occasionally an acid flashback. Also, it seems, I can't stop thinking about field position. After first posting on the subject here, and then subsequently here, I wanted to explore a little further the 2008 Broncos season, and what I consider to the be Cerberus of wins and losses in the NFL.

Cerberus? What the hell is this? For those of you that never had to suffer through Latin (Spanish that semester was full, hombre) or were too stoned to care, Cerberus was the three headed monster that guarded the entrance to the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. And when it comes to guarding the gates of hell, three heads are better than one.

No, I'm not going to go all Kellen Winslow on you (football is war/hell) but football has its own three headed beast:

  1. Turnovers
  2. Field Position
  3. Time of Possession

Thus far, I have really favored field position, as it tends to get ignored by both fans and media. But really, it works within the context of turnovers and time of possession. In short, if you get more turnovers, have better field position, or control the clock, your chances for winning improve drastically.

If you control all three, you simple do not lose. We only need to look at the 2008 Broncos season for evidence of this. We can see week by week how importance these three areas were. Highlighted in red were the week's winner.

Week 1. Denver vs. Oakland, 41-14

Week 1 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 0 29:50:00 28.4
Oak 1 30:10:00 23.7

Week 2. Denver vs. San Diego, 39-38Comments: Denver destroyed Oakland 41-14, winning the turnover battle, breaking even in Time of Possession, and starting with a much shorter field than Oakland.

Week 2 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 1 34:00:00 28.7
SD 1 26:00:00 19.11

Comments: The Broncos outlasted the Chargers 39-38 in the game of the year. Lost in all of the points was the fact that Denver broke even in turnovers, dominated time of possession, and bested the Chargers in starting field possession.

Week 3. Denver vs. New Orleans, 34-32

Week 3 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 2 27:12:00 27
NO 1 32:48:00 25.42

Comments: Denver really had no business winning this game 34-32. The Broncos lost the turnover battle, and were beaten in overall time of possession. However, they took advantage of better average field position, especially on the first two drives of the game.

Week 4. Denver vs. Kansas City, 19-33.

Week 4 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 4 33:23:00 27.23
KC 1 26:37:00 45.54

Comments: The three headed monster ate the Broncos for breakfast on this day as the Chiefs destroyed Denver 33-19. They committed three more turnovers, had the ball seven minutes less, and let the Chiefs begin on average on the 45 yard line. I don't care if you throw the ball harder than Jeff George, Brett Favre, John Elway, or Superman. When the three headed monster works against you, you've got no chance. Mark it zero, dude!

Week 5. Denver vs. Tampa Bay, 16-13

Week 5 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 1 29:13:00 22.7
TB 1 30:47:00 21.4

Comments: Turnovers were even, time of possession was virtually a push, and Denver had a slight edge in field position. Denver 16-13. Specifically, the Broncos took advantage of a third quarter drive in which they began in Tampa territory. Of course, the MSM mentioned none of this in the recap of the game. Instead, Cutler was lauded for his "workman like" game.

Week 6. Denver vs. Jacksonville, 17-24

Week 6 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 3 26:25:00 29.36
Jax 2 33:35:00 24.83

Comments: One of the few games in which Denver wins the field position battle, but loses the game. However, Denver squandered its superior field position with turnovers. In fact, you Cutler haters will enjoy this highlight. Check out the foolish Cutler pick and a foolish Cutler fumble on back to back drives.

Week 7. Denver vs. New England, 7-41

Week 7 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 5 26:03:00 21.82
NE 0 33:57:00 39

Comments: Quick, what happens when you lose the turnover, time of possession, and field position battle all in one game? You get your arse handed to you, that's what, by a score of 41-7. It appears as if McJedi wasn't exactly impressed with Cutler's two bonehead picks over the middle in this game.

Week 9. Denver vs. Miami 17-26

Week 9 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 3 23:28:00 26.75
Miami 1 36:32:00 30.67

Comments: Quick, what happens when you lose the turnover, time of possession, and field position battle all in one game? You get your arse handed to you....again! Well this time is wasn't so bad, Miami bested the Broncos 26-17. I really don't want to beat a dead horse, but my god, Cutler essentially gave this game away in the first quarter with horrible, I mean terrible, decision making. Don't believe me? Here is the highlight package.

Week 10. Denver vs. Cleveland, 34-30

Week 10 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 1 27:51:00 25.91
Cle 1 32:09:00 34.4

Comments: Denver lost the time of possession and field position battle, but won the game. How? Well, scoring 21 fourth quarter points helped...big time. And staying even in turnovers was huge. No Cutler bashing this game. Cutler threw for 446 yards and overcame field position problems in the 2nd half. Perhaps this game was best remembered for Brandon Marshall's restraint in using a touchdown prop in the 4th quarter.

Week 11. Denver vs. Atlanta, 24-20

Week 11 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 0 26:18:00 33.89
Atl 1 33:42:00 25.78

Comments: Denver won the turnover battle and had better field position. They escaped with a victory, despite the fact that Atlanta was probably a better team. Enough said.

Week 12. Denver vs. Oakland, 10-31

Week 12 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 2 27:56:00 19.89
Oak 0 32:04:00 30.63

Comments: Take this to the bank. You lose on turnovers, you lose on time of possession, you lose on field position, and even the worst team in the entire history of football can give you a butt whoopin' 31-10. Anyone remember Ashlie Lelie? If not, you you can see his work here, along with one of the worst interceptions you will ever see Cutler throw (if you can make it to the end of the highlight without vomiting).

Week 13. Denver vs. New York Jets, 34-17

Week 13 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 1 31:55:00 26.08
NYJ 2 28:05:00 24

Comments: Denver reversed its fortunes from the previous week, winning on turnovers, time of possession, and field position, and in the process, they pounded the Jets 34-17. Jay Culter got to see his future, as Brett Favre threw a quintessential Cutler/Favre interception in the 2nd quarter that shifted the momentum in Denver's favor.

Week 14. Denver vs. Kansas City, 24-17

Week 14 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 1 36:38:00 15.5
KC 0 23:22:00 32.14

Comments: If the Chiefs weren't so terrible last year, Denver would have lost this game, losing both the turnover and field position battle. Cutler must have liked what he saw in Favre the previous week, throwing a pick-6 in the first quarter and stringing Peyton Hillis out on a weak cross field pass that cost Hillis his season (harder than Elway? no). However, Denver did what it did best most of the game, moving the ball between the 20s so that the chiefs simply did not have a lot of time with which to work.

Week 15. Denver vs. Carolina, 10-30

Week 15 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 2 29:10:00 25
Car 1 30:50:00 35.64

Comments: Carolina took advantage of numerous field position opportunities in this game, along with a Selvin Young fumble near the end of the half that killed Denver's momentum. Carolina was the three headed monster in this game, winning the turnover, possession, and field position battle.

Week 16. Denver vs. Buffalo, 23-30

Week 16 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 2 26:49:00 24.9
Buf 0 33:11:00 31.3

Comments: The monster struck again. Buffalo won all three categories and they won the game, 30-23. Cutler throws a abysmal pick in the 4th quarter that makes me crave Kyle Orton like a White Russian. Come on, this was league play, Jay!

Week 17. Denver vs. San Diego, 52-21

Week 17 Turnovers Time of Possession Avg. Start Field Position
Den 2 25:53:00 26.3
SD 0 36:07:00 34

Comments: Total destruction, as the three headed monster swallowed Denver whole. San Diego won 52-21. Consistently, San Diego started with shorter fields than Denver. It's a bummer, man.

What it All Means

As much fun as it was to look at each individual game, stats only matter when they are examined over time. What I found were these nuggets of information:

  • In 14 of the 16 games (88%), the team who either tied or won the turnover battle won the football game.
  • In 13 of the 16 games (81%), the team that won the field position battle won the football game.
  • In 11 of the 16 games (69%), the team that won the time of possession battle won the football game.
  • In those games in which one team won all three categories (turnovers, time of possession, and field position), they always (100%) won the football game.

It's like what Lenin said. You look for the person who will benefit, and uh.....you know what I am trying to say. When you get turnovers and control field position and the clock, you win. Turnovers and field position matter more than time of possession, but don't be afraid to go ahead and win all three.

More to come. When I finally burn out my Credence tapes, I plan on looking at the entire 2008 season as I have with the Broncos to see if these percentages hold up. If they do, it will lend more credibility to the McJedi hiring in the Dude's opinion. Shanny rarely focused on special teams the way we know McJedi does, and I for one would rather see a team that finishes better than 32nd in the NFL in field position than a team that continues to rack up gaudy offensive stats playing from behind.

The Dude continues to abide. Go Broncos!!!

Originally posted at MHR

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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