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All-22 analysis: Buffalo Bills 2018 forced fumbles

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Are forced fumbles something that can be replicated? Let’s check the tape

If you follow my work you know how obsessed I get with turnovers. We’ve already looked at the data to see if the Buffalo Bills’ 2018 turnover rate can be reasonably expected to be replicated. While rates and averages are fun, they don’t answer a very important question. To what degree are turnovers based on skill? For this look at the All-22, let’s examine 2018 forced fumbles and see shakes out.


Method

Using the coaches’ film, I went back and looked at 21 of the 23 forced fumbles caused by the Buffalo Bills in 2018. (I couldn’t find two listed via play-by-plays.) The good news is that there’s a very obvious trend in the 21 I did review.

On every one I looked for deliberate action to indicate an attempt to cause a fumble. I classified these actions and “impact” moves or “strip/punch” moves. Impact moves are aiming for the ball with a shoulder or helmet. Strip/punch moves had a motion from the arm to swipe the ball, punch the ball, or wrench the ball free. If I didn’t see clear evidence of either, I classified the forced fumble as occurring from “luck.” As fans, these are the ones we don’t want to see. Let’s see some examples.

Impact moves

Play 1

These can be a little difficult to classify as deliberate due to the speed of the game. This particular one illustrates it well. However, there’s any number of ways to make a tackle and Tremaine Edmunds chooses to drop his shoulder low enough to be where a ball should be carried. Since this is a skill that can be replicated (and it is on the Bills), I counted it as deliberate.

Play 2

This one is more obvious. Taron Johnson is so focused on the ball he literally smashes into it with his face. Don’t knock it if it works.

Strip/punch moves

Play 1

After being knocked over, Trent Murphy looks like he’s out for blood—or the ball at least. Despite being in a great position to simply crush the quarterback, Murphy punches in from behind to dislodge the ball.

Play 2

Jerry Hughes’s wind up for the swat is abundantly clear. The ball is the main focus and Hughes is going to get it. One vicious chop later and it’s out.

Luck

Play1

Unless the Bills are having their players practice psychic abilities, there’s just no way for them to force an opponent to try something like this. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Play 2

I tried my best not to be a homer. There’s a chance that Julian Stanford was trying for the ball, but the outstretched arm doesn’t quite convince me. A deliberate chop rather than what could be an attempt to wrap would be preferred. If I wasn’t convinced a move was deliberate it was chalked up to luck.

The results

The chart speaks for itself. Of the 21 forced fumbles reviewed, only four were the result of luck. Only three were the result of trying to “lower the boom.” That leaves 14, or two thirds of the forced fumbles being attributed to deliberate attempts to dislodge the ball with a punch or strip technique.

What’s even more encouraging is that it’s not just a name or two. It’s everyone. Even on special teams, Logan Thomas was trying for the ball. To some degree this will always be determined by luck. How many opportunities will there be with a clear shot at the ball, for instance. Which opponents you face matters as some players carry the ball more securely and so on. The bottom line, though, is that the Bills are doing everything they can to keep the forced-fumble train rolling.