Want to minimize your turnovers?  What team doesn’t?  One way to do this is to call more running plays.  Why?  Because the vast majority of turnovers come on passing plays.  All stats in this post are from the 2016 regular season, courtesy of pfref.com.

Based on my research there were 654 running and passing plays in 2016 that ended in a turnover.  (Special teams turnovers are not included here, only running and passing plays.)  Of those 654 turnover plays, 560 (85.63%) of them were passing plays.  They weren’t all INT’s (244 were fumbles), but the vast majority came in the passing game.  88 of the 244 fumbles (36%) were caused by sacks.

In terms of down (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th down) the turnovers came fairly evenly divided with 34.7% of them on 1st down, 32.1% on 2nd down, and 29.7% on 3rd down.  (Only 3.5% came on 4th down, but that stands to reason since most of the time teams are either punting or kicking on 4th down.)  But breaking it down in terms of yards to go (e.g. 1st and 10 yards to go), the discrepancy is quite large.  11.2% came on 1-3 yards to go, 15.6% on 4-6 yards to go, 58.1% on 7-10 yards to go, and 15.1% on 11+ yards to go.  (Keep in mind 7-10 yards to go situations happen more often than other yards to go situations since every new 1st down begins with 10 yards to go.)

The Saints had 23 turnovers (not counting special teams), 21 of which (91.3%) came in the passing game and only 2 of which (8.7%) came in the running game.  Is it fair to say, based on this, the Saints could have had fewer turnovers by running the ball more?  Yes, that would be a fair statement, but there would be the cost of some lost offensive production.  Of the Saints 55 TD’s scored on running or passing plays, 38 (69.09%) TD’s came on passing plays while only 17 (30.91%) TD’s came on running plays.  Of the 372 first downs, 266 (71.51%) came on passing plays and only 106 (28.49%) came on running plays.

Would it be worth the trade off in offensive production for the Saints to run the ball more often if it also meant having fewer turnovers?  I think so.  Roughly 70% of offensive production comes via the passing game, but 91% of turnovers come in the passing game.  Seems to me it would be worth some offensive production if it meant fewer turnovers.  It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) run/pass play selection is often dependent upon the scoreboard.  If you’re ahead you’re more likely to run, but if you’re behind you’re more likely to pass.  While it’s all well and good to sit here and ponder the benefits of a more balanced run/pass approach, the defense has to do its part to make that possible.

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