If you were the head coach of a pro football team and had to decide, before the start of the game, whether you would prefer the disadvantage of being either minus-one in the turnover department for the evening, or minus-10 in minutes of possession, which would you choose?
For as long as I have played professional football, I have been preached to on a weekly basis about how critical the turnover battle is. Every time your opponent goes up one in the turnover department, your chances of winning decrease exponentially. Though I have never seen or heard of a statistical analysis that correlates time of possession to victory on the football field, I would dare suggest that every time it approaches 10 minutes of disparity, the results would look eerily similar.
Up to this point, we have almost been brainwashed with the storyline that turnovers and injuries are the primary reasons why the Bombers started the season 1-5, and are now just 2-5. While these are significant factors, tell me if the following facts and statistics aren't also more than coincidental:
The only two games the Bombers have won so far this year, are also the only two games they have held onto the football longer than their opponent. The two best games the Bomber defence has played so far, in terms of points surrendered (22 and 18 -- I subtracted the punt-return TD from the Hamilton game), were also the only two games where the Bomber offence controlled the football longer than their opponent. In their five losses so far this season, the Bombers have averaged just over 25 minutes of offensive possession a game. That's almost an extra quarter the opposition has had opportunities to score with on a weekly basis. In their two wins, where they played their best defence, they have held onto the football for an average of 34 minutes, or basically what their opponents have averaged in five victories.
While the return of DB Alex Suber and DT Bryant Turner certainly didn't hurt the team's season-best defensive performance last week, along with the rest of the squad coming off a bye week of rest, if I were to pick the most impacting factor that led to the Bomber defenders allowing only 18 points against a prolific offence, I would say it had less to do with any of the aforementioned variables, and everything to do with what they didn't do, and that is spend a lot of time on the field.
I don't care if you own a time machine that could bring back the strongest Blue Bomber defenders of all time, in their prime, and mix them on the field for the remainder of 2012. Nothing benefits a defensive dozen more than not playing. When they are watching the offence move the football, not only are they not giving up opportunities for points (most of the time), but they are resting. And when defences with the kind of personnel that the 2012 Bombers have are well rested, they hustle to the football and good things happen when they get there, like the creation of turnovers.
Trust me when I tell you, nothing is more deflating for the defensive side of the football to be behind in a game and on the field for the majority of the day. Sure, at the best of times, defenders can score a touchdown, or force a turnover, but these are rarities. Nothing is more frustrating and disheartening than being on the field almost a quarter longer than your offence, especially when you are down almost immediately in the first quarter and desperately need points to get back into the game.
In 2011, the Bombers did not have an offence that anyone will remember for much anything notable. Yet on average, throughout the regular season, they did manage to hold onto the football for just less than a minute longer than their opponents did, which was sufficient for their defence to carry them to 10 victories and secure a berth in the championship game.
Imagine what could have been had that offence controlled the football for 35 minutes a game? Injuries and turnovers are a big reason why this club was not successful early in the year, but failing to sustain drives with any sense of regularity is just as much a culprit.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.