RENTON — Through much of Pete Carroll’s tenure, the Seattle Seahawks have been consistently among the best in the NFL at a rather odd, but helpful, skill — recovering their own fumbles.
Most NFL conventional wisdom contends that recovering fumbles is pretty random, a matter of lucky bounces as much as anything, and that teams good at it one year inevitably aren’t as good at it the next.
But since 2013, according to stats compiled by FootballPerspective.com, the Seahawks have annually had one of the highest percentages of recovering their own fumbles as any team in the NFL.
Last year, the Seahawks recovered 14 of 18 fumbles, a league-high 78%. The league average was 57%.
The 2017 season was much of the same. The Seahawks recovered 13 of their 18 fumbles that year, 72%, fifth-best in the NFL.
In 2016, the Seahawks recovered 16 of 22. Numbers were similar in 2014 (16 of 23) and 2013 (16 of 26), all percentages in the top five (in 2015, they recovered 10 of 18, about league average).
If there’s one reason for it, it’s that quarterbacks typically fumble more than any player, and Russell Wilson has proved really adept at recovering his own fumbles — he’s been credited with getting 34 of 75 in his career. Wilson’s recoveries rank him 22nd all time and fifth among active players. The four ahead of him are all QBs who have each been in the league since at least 2005 — Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ben Roethlisberger.
But this year, the ball hasn’t bounced the Seahawks’ way, particularly on Monday night, when the Seahawks might have blown out the 49ers had they not fumbled five times and lost three of them before pulling out a 27-24 overtime win.
That gave Seattle 11 lost fumbles out of 18 overall.
The Seahawks’ 11 lost fumbles are second-most in the NFL behind the Giants’ 14 (their rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has already lost nine).
That comes a year after the Seahawks lost just four, the fewest in the NFL, a team-record low and a key reason the Seahawks set a team record for fewest turnovers in a season (11) and led the league in turnover differential at plus-15. (The Seahawks still have a good turnover differential this year at plus-six, fourth in the NFL, due mostly to the fact that Wilson has thrown just two interceptions — only the Chiefs have fewer.)
In fact, Seattle has already lost more fumbles this season than the past two years combined (nine) and is not far off the total of the past three years combined (15).
Carroll called what happened Monday “terrible. … We’re so fortunate. Think how fortunate we are to win that game, that tight of a game, and kick the ball all over the field.”
Viewing the overall fumble stats for the season, one could say the Seahawks are fortunate to be 8-2.
The issue is that players other than Wilson are fumbling.
Wilson has five this season, on par with his 10 of 2018, with only one lost. That was officially ruled an aborted exchange between Wilson and Chris Carson in the Pittsburgh game.
Last year, the rest of the Seahawks combined for just eight fumbles. But this year, Seattle has 13 fumbles by players other than Wilson, led by Carson’s six (four lost) and DK Metcalf’s two (both lost).
To Carroll, fumbles are basically the worst possible sin, considering one of his core mottos is that “it’s all about the ball.” Every coach emphasizes limiting turnovers, but few in recent NFL history have been as good at making it happen.
Which is why Carroll said Tuesday that figuring out how to stop fumbling will be the top priority when the team returns to practice next week following its bye.
“I have to do a better job of setting the thing in motion and how we emphasize it,” he said. “It is the most emphasized aspect of our program, but it isn’t good enough. We aren’t doing it well enough. Our guys aren’t buying in well.”
Two fumbles that stood out Monday were largely the result of players trying too hard — Metcalf’s lost fumble as he tried to power his way into the end zone late in the first half and right tackle Germain Ifedi’s fumble that resulted in a 49ers TD after he grabbed Wilson’s fumble out of the air and took off running.
Of the two, Carroll was more sympathetic to Metcalf.
“I sat with DK on the plane (Monday) night talking for some time, talking about how he has to decipher when it’s time and when it isn’t time to keep battling,” Carroll said. “He’s been in the situation a few times already. He’s so strong that he just doesn’t go down. It does allow for a lot of guys to get a shot at him, and we can’t let that happen.”
Carroll defended Ifedi for his alertness to pluck the ball out of the air. But trying to run?
“I don’t know what he was thinking,” Carroll said.
Carroll said that, if that happens again, the lesson will have hopefully gotten through.
“It’s all about (consciousness),” Carroll said. “It’s not about, ‘How fancy I want to run,’ or ‘I don’t care, I’m going to go make a first down.’ It’s about how you get there with the right mentality, with the ball in the right spot, and protecting it like we can do. … We won’t have a chance if this keeps going on. You can’t win like that.”