Friday, July 5, 2013

Most Turnovers by a Cornerback Combo

As we near the opening of NFL training camps and the Cubs and White Sox continue their long slogs toward irrelevancy, I'll make random NFL posts. This comes courtesy of a question asked by Laurence Holmes (@LaurenceWHolmes), nighttime host on Chicagp's 670 The Score and DePaul University adjunct professor, who asked if there had ever been a NFL cornerback tandem with more turnovers than what Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings had in 2012 for the Bears. I researched that EXACT question, looking for combined interceptions and fumble RECOVERIES by a tandem and, using the (free!) Play Index feature at Pro Football Reference, came up with this list, going back to 1970:

There's nothing I enjoy more than answering a semi-complex question over Twitter (hey, was that sarcasm? YES!). Between the two, Tillman and Jennings had 14 turnovers--TiIllman had 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries, and Jennings had 9 interceptions with no fumble recoveries. That's not bad, but far from the record set by Dennis Thurman and Everson Walls in 1981. Actually, I take that back--it might not be the record since I only went back to 1970, but the NFL only expanded to a 14-game season in the 1960s, and clear demarcations between safety and cornerback become blurred much further back than that. For example, Dick "Night Train" Lane had 14 interceptions for the 1952 Rams playing what appears to be cornerback (he's listed as a defensive halfback), and Jerry Williams had 4 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries, so they could arguably be on the list. They're not.

As I thought about it, I considered substituting forced fumbles for fumble recoveries, and as I was eating lunch with my family, sure enough, that question was asked. Here's how that looks--combining forced fumbles with interceptions:

We're on firmer ground here in that forced fumbles weren't measured until 1985, and not reliably until around 1990 or so, making for a much more complete (if shorter) window. Sure enough, the Dallas duo is still near the top, but by adding in forced fumbles, the Chicago duo catapults to the top. 

In the short history of the forced fumble stat, three players have had seasons of 10:
Games Fumbles
Player Year Age Tm G GS FR Yds TD FF
Dwayne Harper 1993 27 SEA 14 14 1 0 0 10
Charles Tillman 2012 31 CHI 16 16 2 0 0 10
Osi Umenyiora 2010 29 NYG 16 16 1 0 0 10
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/5/2013.

NFL stats aren't like baseball in that they don't go as far back (reliable yardage data prior to 1940 is spotty at best) and in the aggregate football is much more a team game than baseball, mitigating the value of individual stats. This in no way diminishes the seasons Tillman and Jennings had, and if the Bears want to go anywhere in 2013, they'll need a comparable effort from both.

I decided to add this after I posted--this is the most combined forced fumbles and interceptions by TEAM since 1981, the first year that forced fumbles began appearing in stat sheets. For reasons described above, it will skew toward more recent teams:

The 1999 Eagles featured Brian Dawkins (4 INT and 6 FF), Troy Vincent (7 and 2) and four other players who combined for at least 4 INT or FF, including draft combine sensation Mike Mamula. The 2001 Browns were in their third year of existence and had a surprisingly good pass defense--teams attempted the 8th-most passes against them but they were only 22nd in passing yards allowed. Anthony Henry had a great rookie year with 10 INT (which means he was targeted A LOT) and four other players that you've never heard of had 5 or more INT and FF. The 2012 Bears defense is an illustration of how futile the Bears' offense was, and the 2010 Giants (and for that matter, CURRENT Giants) is one of the better defenses in the NFL. 

In the Lovie Smith Era, much was made of the intentionality of forced fumbles, and Charles Tillman is Exhibit A of how that can work--here are the career leaders at any position:
As you look at that list, notice that every player in front of Tillman is either a lineman or a linebacker, and notice as well what happens to that list when INT are added to FF. I'll show that below:

Pretty good company, Peanut.

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