At the beginning of the season, we theorized that turnover margin would be a key to the St. Louis Rams' success in 2013. After finishing last season in the negative column, it appeared that the Rams, consistent with Jeff Fisher's history, were poised to move the turnover needle in their favor this season.
Through their first two games, the Rams are exactly where they were when 2012 finished, -1 in turnovers. As they head to Dallas this week to face an opportunistic Cowboys' defense, the Rams are going to have to start moving that trend in the opposite direction.
The Rams have committed three turnovers and forced only two. More importantly, the Rams are a -19 in point differential off turnovers, tied for 29th in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. That's thanks in large part to two interceptions that Arizona and Atlanta returned for scores. That's also a recipe for disaster in the NFL. Since 2000, teams surrendering defensive touchdowns have lost nearly 75 per cent of the game in which they did so. That the Rams were able to buck that trend in week one against the Cardinals is fortuitous, but that won't continue.
Enter the Dallas Cowboys, the Rams opponent in week three, and the most opportunistic team in the NFL through the first two weeks. Dallas has taken it away seven times (six against the Giants in week one) and given it up just twice. Their points off turnover differential is +16, tied with Kansas City and Tennessee (the Chiefs just returned an interception for a TD as I type this, bringing them to plus 22).
The Cowboys have some significant offensive weapons in Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray. But make no mistake, they need their defense to put them in favorable positions to win games. Their offense is only barely outscoring their defense to this point, 30-22.
What's more, the Cowboys have been known themselves to give up the football. Last season they were -44 in turnover point differential. Tony Romo, who grew up in Wisconsin admiring Brett Favre, has a tendency to force balls into tight areas, giving opposing defenses the chance for big plays.
Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel once said that any offensive possession that ends in a kick (punt, field goal or extra point) was a good possession. That's what St. Louis needs to happen on Sunday to be successful. If the Rams allow Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein to end their drives, they have a good chance of coming out of Dallas 2-1. If possessions end with offensive players trying to make tackles, it will be a long day.
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