The Broncos have been recovering fumbles at a puzzlingly low rate in 2012.
Explanations for this issue have resembled a Randian debate. Either, the Broncos aren't trying hard enough to recover fumbles, and are being outworked by their opponents, or they're trying to do too much (ie. scoop and run instead of falling on the ball).
It's Denver's fault - because anything unfavorable that happens to them, they've put themselves in that position.
Alternatively, the ball just hasn't bounced Denver's way as much as would be expected, and them's the breaks.
On Tuesday, we went over each of the Broncos' own 14 fumbles, and found that poor officiating and bad bounces had gone against Denver in a significant way. The Broncos hardly had a chance to recover six of them, and another was a meaningless giveaway on a hook-and-lateral play.
Today, we'll examine the 13 fumbles by Denver's opponents; of those, Denver has only recovered four of them.
Our questions today are the same: has this lack of recoveries been caused by effort or luck? Do the numbers paint an unfair picture of what's been happening? Let's take a look:
|1||1||Pittsburgh||Roethlisberger||Sack||Pittsburgh||QB bobbles snap, picks it back up; never a chance for Denver recovery|
|2||2||Atlanta||Michael Turner||Rush||Atlanta||Turner drops ball underneath himself while trying to reach for TD; no chance for Broncos recovery|
|3||3||Houston||Ben Tate||Rush||Denver||Vickerson strips ball, Bannan quickly dives on it, barely ahead of Texans lineman|
|4||4||Oakland||Palmer||Sack||Oakland||Strip sack by Dumervil; Palmer bats ball accidentally, it bounces right under falling Oakland lineman|
|5||5||New England||Brady||Sack||New England||Strip sack by Woodyard; Unrein dives for ball but it squirts away; Solder recovers for Pats, but it's turned over on downs|
|6||5||New England||Ridley||Rush||Denver||Miller strips Ridley; ball bounces right to Adams, who falls on it|
|7||6||San Diego||Weddle||Punt||San Diego||Weddle muffs punt, but ball never bounces away from him, and he falls on it|
|8||6||San Diego||McMichael||Reception||San Diego||Adams pokes ball out from McMichael; Leonhard tries to scoop, fails; Ronnie Brown dives between also diving Leonhard and Woodyard, recovers ball|
|9||6||San Diego||Rivers||Sack||Denver||Ball knocked free by Dumervil, rolls through line; Ayers either flails at ball or intentionally bats it to to Carter, who is alone and able to pick it up, return for season-turning TD|
|10||6||San Diego||Rivers||Sack||Denver||Game already out of reach; Dumervil strips Rivers, Adams falls on it|
|11||8||New Orleans||Brees||Sack||New Orleans||Strip sack by Woodyard; ball sits on ground; Dumervil gathers ball in but it bounces off his pads, and then he bobbles it again; New Orleans recovers and punts|
|12||10||Carolina||Newton||Sack||Carolina||Dumervil strips ball (this is where his shoulder is injured), it sits on turf, Miller runs up to scoop it but boots the ball instead, right back to Newton|
|13||10||Carolina||Stewart||Rush||Carolina||Miller punches ball out; Jordan Gross has hold of Ayers, whose fall pushes Miller away and makes him unable to recover. Gross and Ayers fall next to each other, Gross recovers.|
Again, we'll refer to each fumble by its number, for clarity's sake.
Denver came away with the ball on Fumbles 3, 6, 9, and 10, although 3 could easily have gone either way.
Miller could have gotten to Fumble 13, but it would have been a very difficult recovery. Gross had the best shot at the ball, and he ended up on top of it.
On Fumbles 1, 2, 4, and 7, Denver defenders never had even the slightest chance of recovering the ball, given the bounces that occurred. The first two never really got away from Roethlisberger and Weddle, and for these purposes, hardly register as fumbles.
There is absolutely no case to be made that the Broncos should have gained possession in any of these four cases.
Fumbles 5 and 11 both featured balls squirting out of the grasp of Denver defenders, while 8 and 12 were failed scoops by Leonhard and Miller. Technically, one could fault these players for not falling on the ball, but they'd have to also give back Carter's season-altering scoop-and-score if one were being consistent. Our viewpoint is that it's extremely difficult (if not unreasonable) to ask athletic players like these to suddenly turn off their aggression switches when a live ball is in front of them.
Unsurprisingly, the team's poor outcomes on fumbles - whether their own or their opponents' - have not in any way been about effort.
Two of the fumbles were just uncontested muffs; another came on fourth down and resulted in a turnover on downs. As with the offense, the defense has twice had loose balls squirt out from under their pads.
Some might suggest the team needs to practice falling on balls and corralling them safely, and perhaps that's true. It's not necessarily clear to us that any of those four instances were about poor form, but we won't quibble the point.
Across the offense and defense, that's a piddling six recoveries out of 27 fumbles. We're chalking it up to luck, and factors outside of the Broncos' control.
This poor fortune may turn for the better, or it may not. There's no rule that says it has to anytime soon, or even this season.
All Denver can do is cut down on fumbling, and create more opportunities for recoveries on defense.
Sunday, against the Chargers, would be a great starting point.