Two-time Super Bowl champion coach Jimmy Johnson used to say it’s not how many good plays you make that win football games. It’s how many bad plays you don’t make.
Translation — don’t beat yourself with mistakes.
Those mistakes an offense can make – those bad plays — are turnovers. Fumbles and interceptions. You give up the football…and possibly worse.
There have been 67 defensive touchdowns in the NFL this season – 38 off interceptions and 29 off fumbles. Teams that returned an interception for a touchdown are 30-8 in those games this season. Teams that returned a fumble for a touchdown are 22-7 in those games this season.
So when a defense has scored a touchdown this season, it has finished on the winning side 77.6 percent of the time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars forced only 13 turnovers on defense last season in finishing well out of the playoff mix with a 3-13 record. But the Jaguars added key defensive pieces in free agency last offseason — end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church – and this defense is suddenly a takeaway machine.
Jacksonville ranks second in the NFL with 31 takeaways, intercepting 20 passes and recovering 11 fumbles. But it’s what the Jaguars have done with those bad plays by opposing offenses that’s had the greatest impact on their current standing. Jacksonville has already clinched its first playoff berth since 2007 and is in position to capture its first AFC South title since 1999.
The Jaguars hold the third seed in the AFC playoff bracket with a 10-4 record.
Jacksonville can thank its defense and that unit’s opportunism for this overnight success. The Jaguars have scored a league-high six defensive touchdowns this season – four on fumbles and two on interceptions. Jacksonville is 5-1 when its defense scores a touchdown.
The Jaguars, by the way, have avoided those bad plays on offense, not allowing a defensive touchdown this season. Avoid those bad plays, like Johnson said, and you reap the rewards.
The Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs also have not allowed a defensive touchdown this season. The Vikings sit as the second seed in the NFC with an 11-3 record, the Rams are the third seed in the NFC with a 10-4 record and the Chiefs the fourth seed in the AFC with an 8-6 record.
On the other side of the ball, Baltimore and Detroit have scored a runner-up five defensive touchdowns apiece this season. Both sit 8-6 and in the wild-card hunt in their respective conferences.
Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith is one of only two NFL defenders this season to score a touchdown on both an interception and a fumble return. Chicago safety Eddie Jackson is the other. Campbell also has a touchdown for the Jaguars this season on a fumble return against Arizona, as has Church on an interception against Pittsburgh. End Dante Fowler and outside linebacker Myles Jack have the other Jacksonville defensive scores on fumble returns.
The Jaguars have allowed the fewest points in the NFL and the third fewest yards. They lead the league in sacks with 51 in addition to that second-place standing in takeaways.
Defense still goes a long way in the NFL. An opportunistic defense takes you even farther.