Sorry, Lovie Smith: Forcing Fumbles Is a Skill, Recovering Fumbles Is Luck

Michael David Smith

by Michael David Smith

Bears coach Lovie Smith loves to talk about the importance of recovering fumbles, and this year the Bears' defense is doing that well: They've forced 11 fumbles and recovered eight of them, meaning that 73 percent of the time that they knock the ball loose, they recover it. That's the highest percentage in the league.

But there's some bad news for Lovie: Let's turn to our friends at for one of the basic tenets of football research:

Recovery of a fumble, despite being the product of hard work, is almost entirely random.

Stripping the ball is a skill. Holding onto the ball is a skill. Pouncing on the ball as it is bouncing all over the place is not a skill. There is no correlation whatsoever between the percentage of fumbles recovered by a team in one year and the percentage they recover in the next year. The odds of recovery are based solely on the type of play involved, not the teams or any of their players.

Fans like to insist that specific coaches can teach their teams to recover more fumbles by swarming to the ball. Chicago's Lovie Smith, in particular, is supposed to have this ability. However, since Smith took over the Bears, their rate of fumble recovery on defense went from a league-best 76 percent to a league-worst 33 percent in 2005, then back to 67 percent in 2006. Last year, they recovered 57 percent of fumbles, close to the league average.

That's bad news for Lovie: While forcing fumbles is a skill, recovering fumbles is just luck. And while the Bears have been good at recovering fumbles this season, they haven't been good at forcing them: They've forced just 11 fumbles, ranking 22nd in the league.

So, while the Bears have been lucky with fumbles this season, they haven't been good. And this is one of those cases when you'd rather be good than lucky.

Sorry, Lovie Smith: Forcing Fumbles Is a Skill, Recovering Fumbles Is Luck originally appeared on NFL FanHouse on Tue, 25 Nov 2008 17:57:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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