INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s arguably the most influential stat when it comes to getting to the most important stat.
The most important stat? The final score, of course.
The most influential stat? Turnovers.
Listen to Andrew Luck.
“Being positive in the turnover margin is a big deal, a big indicator for winning and losing,’’ he said. “Scoring points in the red zone, converting on third down.
You’re not convinced?
The Indianapolis Colts burrowed themselves into a 1-5 hole to open the season in large part by being careless with the football. They were a minus-3 in turnover differential and a minus-34 in points scored off turnovers. In the last loss – 42-34 to the New York Jets – the Colts gifted the Jets 20 points with four turnovers.
The script’s been flipped during the four-game win streak. The Colts are a plus-8 in the turnover battle and, more impressively, a plus-41 in points.
As much attention as Indy has earned by setting a team record with no sacks allowed in the last five games, here’s another tidbit that shouldn’t be dismissed: since their giveaway-fest against the Jets, the Colts have suffered just one turnover in the last four games.
And it’s worth reminding everyone the last one – Andrew Luck’s interception against Jacksonville – was a result of Luck’s pass going through the hands of tight end Mo Alie-Cox.
That type of ball security always is at the top of the game-day “To do’’ list, but it’s difficult to achieve on an extended basis.
“Really our norm is week-to-week,’’ Frank Reich said. “When you stack them together like that in one respect I kind of understand the question and get it, but that’s what we want to be the normal.
“That’s what we envision to be the normal, we really do.’’
Since 2012, the Colts are 20-4 when they don’t turn the ball over with Luck under center. They’re 27-5 when he doesn’t suffer an interception.
That’s not a coincidence.
“I think the league stats show usually if you are plus-2 in (turnover differential) you are about 80 percent win,’’ Reich said. “That’s one of the bigger factors. There are a couple of them, but that’s certainly right at the top.’’
Keeping the Colts razor-focused in that area has been running backs coach Tom Rathman. A few times each week he stands in front of the offensive meeting room and meticulously shows players video of previous games.
Rathman will point out when Colts players have displayed good – and bad – ball security. He’ll have video of the upcoming opponent’s games of this year and last and showcase that team’s ball-prying techniques.
“He will explain to the guys how they are going to get it out,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “I know there is an added element of the way we are teaching it – particularly coach Rathman – and the way we are emphasizing it.’’
Rathman’s is the voice of experience. In nine NFL seasons, the no-nonsense running back handled 864 “touches’’ – 544 rushes, 320 receptions. He lost just two fumbles.
“He’s still pissed about that . . . and he will tell you about it,’’ Sirianni said with a laugh.
Added Reich: “There is a lot of credibility.’’
Rathman always talks in front of a rapt audience.
“I wish you guys could just be in there and hear him talk about it,’’ Reich said. “I mean, it’s just at a different level of intensity and professionalism and focus and not taking that meeting for granted. That meeting is like the highlight. It’s the most important thing in the world right then, right now.
“Every guy in that room, you feel it. I mean, you feel when he stands up to talk about it like ‘I better pay attention. This guy might come and grab me by the neck and hurt me.’’’
The takeaway game
Matt Eberflus’ defense has its frustrating tendencies. It ranks 20th in the NFL in yards per game, 18th in scoring and 27th in getting off the field on third downs. It has allowed 19 scoring drives that have been 10 plays or longer, including a pair of 17-play journeys.
But let’s give credit where it’s due: the Colts are among the league’s best at creating turnovers. They’ve generated 19, tied for fifth-most in the league. The Colts and Cleveland Browns are the only teams to collect at least one turnover in each game this season.
The last time Indy had at least one takeaway in each of the first 10 games of a season was in 2007, when it opened with a 13-game takeaway streak.
“It’s been a major, major priority this year to get those turnovers and to be able to get those fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions and everything,’’ said defensive end Margus Hunt, who’s been a catalyst for those difference-making plays with 4 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, both career highs. “We have been working on it hard ever since OTAs.’’
“It’s about hustle and intensity,’’ Eberflus said. “It’s about having strip attempts every play. Never pass one up.
“It’s about every man, every play.’’
Defenders celebrate a takeaway by sprinting to the end zone for a group “photo session.’’
“You know, I don’t mind it,’’ Eberflus said. “To me, it’s like when the offense scores touchdowns, they get to do their thing. Do row the boat or leapfrog or all those things.
“To me, on defense, what are you going to do? So everybody has been running to the end zone taking a picture. That’s the way they celebrate. I think that’s awesome.’’