|Khalil Mack, credit: Fox Sports|
|JJ Watt, credit: CBS Sports|
|Demarcus Lawrence, credit: Fox Sports|
Think of this as the “Unofficial-Official” era. From circa 1975-1980 to date teams consistently reported on the number of fumbles their defenders forced in Media Guides, I think of this as the “Team-Official” era as the numbers were kept fairly consistently across teams, unlike tackles where clearly teams used very different criteria, forcing a fumble is a very discrete event that can either be known to have happened or not—little left in doubt.
Prior to this is the “Unofficial Play-by-Play” era, where largely the only way to gather the number is from play-by-play accounts of the games, of course, prior to 1975 play-by-plays so varied in quality that many many fumbles went without ever recoding who caused the fumble.
|Osi Umenyiora, credit: Wikipedia|
But players often get off to a hot start. In fact, during the “Unofficial-Official” era players have forced 4 or more fumbles in 4 consecutive weeks a few times . . . just not in weeks 1-4. In 1995 Ken Harvey then of the Redskins forced a single fumble in 4 consecutive weeks, but only tallied 5 on the season. In fact, Mike Sinclair (1998), Simeon Rice (2002) and one J.J.Watt (2012) each forced a single fumble in 4 consecutive games during the season, making Mack one of just 5 players in the last 25 years to force a single fumble in 4 consecutive games.
But perhaps most impressive, in 1995 and 2007 Ed McDaniel and Adewale Ogunleye each forced a single fumble in three consecutive games, then forced 2 in the 4th of those games, for a total of 5 FF’s in 4 games, incredible. In his 10 FF season in 2010, Osi Umenyiora forced 2 fumbles each in 3 consecutive games for a total of 6 in just three weeks.
So what does this portend for Mack and Watt, we’ll have to wait and see. In all likelihood teams will adapt, but it’s not like Mack and Watt being dominating defenders came out of the blue, maybe they’ll be double teamed even more often, or triple teamed. It is possible that what we’re seeing is part of a trend, given the new rules regarding landing on a passer during a sack, Von Miller stated that he’s just going to “go for the ball”, maybe, in a backwards way, this rule will hurt offenses as more sacks will lead to forced fumbles.
The early results suggest a possible uptick, through week 4 of last season 39 of 315 sacks or 12.4% were also forced fumbles, this season 47 of 320 or 14.7% a 19% increase, though it’s still too early to tell if this trend will hold.
So what of the previous era’s, the information we do have suggests that the recent emphasis on creating turnovers has actually increased the prevalence of forced fumbles. The numbers from the “Team-Official” era are very reliable yet the highest figures observed in a single season are consistently in the 7 to 8 range.
Keep in mind before LT, with Derrick Thomas later taking it to another level, the goal of sacking the QB was just that. LT began “tomahawking” the ball from QB’s hands in the late 80’s and only after Derrick Thomas forced 8 fumbles in 1992 with the technique did it truly becomes a point of emphasis.
|Dick Butkus, credit: NFL Films|
So we may be entering a golden age of forced fumbles, Mack and Watt are truly off to a terrific start and each could be on his way to a historic season. So who’s the defensive player of the year at the quarter pole, you decide . . .